What you need to know about youth summer camps during the coronavirus

Posted at 6:12 AM, Jun 12, 2020

MILWAUKEE — Whether moving operations online or proceeding with on-site programs, summer camp leaders are rethinking protocols to limit contact and prioritize the safety of their staff, campers and families. Despite COVID-19, there are still options for children to have a safe and enriching summer.

On-site camps will prioritize safety, sanitation and smaller groups

Many of the campers who typically attend weekly in-person programs are the children of essential workers who depend on camp services as child care, said Lynn Greb, the recreation director for the Milwaukee Recreation Department, which runs through Milwaukee Public Schools.

“As more and more businesses are opening, a bigger need for child care is going to come to light,” she said.

The department’s Summer Enrichment Camps are scheduled to start July 6 for an abbreviated summer of on-site programming. Camps are hosted in MPS school facilities, which are inaccessible under current orders until June 30, Greb said.

In order to host in-person camps, the Recreation Department will continue to follow the guidance and regulations of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of 100 sites that once could accommodate 150 campers each, about half of those locations will host a maximum of 50 students each, Greb said. Campers will be divided into smaller groups of one to two staff members per eight or nine children, ensuring that no more than 10 individuals are in a room at once, she said.

“Being more intentional about keeping groups separate is a primary way to keep everyone as safe as possible,” Greb said. “The safety of the participants is our top priority.”

Without the ability to get off site for field trips or participate in large group activities, Greb said staff will have to be more adaptable and creative in finding other ways to engage campers.

“To me, it comes down to that leader,” she said. “Having a caring adult working with young people is such an important part of that experience. There’s still ways to make that experience fun and enriching to the young people even in spite of some of the restrictions we have now.”

Summit Educational Association, which normally runs a full time, seven-week program for students in the fourth to eighth grades, also plans to provide an in-person camp, with programs scheduled to run five days a week starting June 22 until Aug. 7 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The camp’s COVID-19 plan provides detailed guidelines of operation for this summer and includes protocol on a variety of situations.

“Everything will be socially distanced,” said the program’s executive director, Matt Smyczek. Though the camp traditionally brings youth of all ages together through academics and collaborative sports, there will be 32 small groups of fewer than 10 campers this summer. All students and staff will wear masks, and there will be no interaction with other teams, he said.

Summit Education Association also meets the need for child care. About 95% of families that attend the association’s camps live on modest or lower incomes, and the organization works with families to ensure finances do not create a barrier to attend camp, Smyczek said.

Families can call Matt Smyczek at 414-364-2902 or email for more information.

Online camps will have more hands-on opportunities

Many camps have moved operations online— but are still committed to a very hands-on experience.

“An online environment offers a different opportunity,” said Ben LaDuke, the director of College for Kids and Teens Camp. “There’s a place for this in the future of education.”

The camp, which typically occurs on the UW-Milwaukee campus, has transitioned about two-thirds of its 250 courses to online. Multiple two-week-long sessions will occur through a live, online platform from June 15 to August 7.

Families can safely pick up resource bags from staff that have the supplies needed to do each project alongside peers and instructors virtually. LaDuke said project-based activities and opportunities for virtual interaction will keep students engaged.

College for Kids and Teens Camp also offers two scholarship programs that are still available for families. About 118 scholarships are available for families with students in kindergarten through fifth grade to attend one week of camp. For students in sixth through 12th grade, there are about 80 scholarships available to fund an entire summer.

Students can attend up to three two-hour classes per day in two-week increments, and families have the flexibility to choose how many or how few courses they would like their children to take.

For more information, email or call 414-227-3360.

Here are more updates on how local programs are adapting their summer programming due to COVID-19:

The 7 Generations YEP Summer Day Camp at the Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center has always been a space for native youth ages 7 to 12 to participate in activities focused on well-being, mental health and their indigenous culture. With all programming moved online, the youth center has continued to offer that space for Native American families virtually— through Zoom hangouts. They will continue all programming online for the summer. For more information, contact Stacey Mattson at 414-316-5050 or

The Urban Ecology Center plans to host in-person camps and has suspended registration until June 1. Families can reach out to Lynn Anders, the environmental education manager, at

PeppNation, a nonprofit that typically hosts tutoring and sports camps all summer long, plans to continue programs virtually through live fitness workout videos on its Facebook page Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The nonprofit also has opportunities for youth to participate in the PeppNation Workforce Development Program. Call 414- 366-2130 or email for more information.

Discovery World will begin summer programming in June with virtual DW@Home Summer Camp. Students will utilize materials available by curbside pickup for a hands-on experience at home. Families can register here for camps taking place in July and August. Those camps will be held in person based on recommendations from official health guidelines.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee summer camp registration is now open. The camps will have smaller groups and a greater focus on hygiene and distancing, but leaders have decided to discontinue field trips, overnights and specialty camps, according to the organization’s COVID-19 camp update. Check here for some of the resources the clubs are offering families to help youth keep learning safely during this time.

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