What did summer camp look like this year in Philadelphia?

Listen 6:01
Kathryn Ott Lovell, commissioner at Philadelphia Parks and Recreation (far right), Gathered at East Passyunk Community Center with (left to right) Max, Ruby, and Kim Kindelsperger.

Kathryn Ott Lovell, commissioner at Philadelphia Parks and Recreation (far right), Gathered at East Passyunk Community Center with (left to right) Max, Ruby, and Kim Kindelsperger.

With the school year beginning for many kids, it may seem premature to mention the dreaded “report card.”

As the summer ends, we reflect on Philadelphia’s children’s summer programs — which had to pair safety protocols with fun — during the pandemic.

How’d they do?

Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn asked Kathryn Ott Lovell, Commissioner at Parks and Recreation, as they socially distanced at the East Passyunk Community Center at 10th and Mifflin.

Good morning, Kathryn.

Kathryn: Good morning, Jennifer.

And we are joined by Kim Kindelsperger and her son Max, who took part in the Parks and Recreation summer program. And Kim, you are gonna help me give out the grades?

Kim: I’m ready for it.

Okay. Thank you for joining in. Kathryn, what does the playbook for summer programs normally look like when there’s not a pandemic?

Kathryn: You know, normally our summer camps are, I would say, organized chaos. They are tons of fun, tons of activity, lots of people together enjoying themselves. Young people who are just ready for summer, with really caring adults supervising their fun and their activity on a daily basis, involves a couple of field trips a week to various destinations in the region, trips to the pool, trips to the sprayground. You know, lots of hands-on activities, none of which we can do this summer.

What were you able to do instead?

Kathryn: We knew that we could separate kids into cohorts so we could keep them safe by keeping them in small groups. So that’s the first thing that we did. We pushed as many activities outdoors as possible. We had lots of water play, lots of creative activities. We have great staff who come up with themes for different days, everything from tie-dyeing shirts, to superhero programs, to Disney days. You know, so many kids have really been traumatized by the lack of social interaction they’ve been able to have since the pandemic began. They haven’t seen their friends in four or five months. I think for many parents that we heard from, this was a tremendous break. They’re just really grateful that we were able to provide this and pull this off.

Yeah, Parks and Rec really kind of saved the summer for thousands of kids. What would be the numbers from last year to this year?

Kathryn: We actually had the capacity to enroll about 3,800, but we only had about 1,800. So we were under capacity, which was good for something that we were testing and not sure about. I’m happy to say that I don’t think we turned any families away and we were still able to provide critical meals in neighborhoods where camps were not happening.

Yeah. Well, we are at the site of the East Passyunk Community Center at 10th and Mifflin. And Kim, you’re here with Max and your daughter Ruby. What worked for your family?

Kim: Having my son Max be able to do something normal after four months of online learning and being in the house and just being worried to just do any kind of social interaction, that this was an amazing gift. He was able to do kid things and be around other kids and go to camp like he has for the past summer.

Max, you’re right next to your mom. I heard that you liked a very specific water sport that involves water guns. Why was that so fun?

Max: Because me and a person in my group named Michael, we had squirt guns that you pull up and then you squirt out. So we have like four or five guns with like two big blasters.

Oh, my goodness. And I have to ask you your honest opinion, would you give this program an A, a B, or a C letter grade for hanging out, playing with the water guns?

Max: B+.

B+, OK. Now, Kathryn, how about some self-evaluation? What do you think worked? What was most important for the kids, but also, you know, worked out for them and for you in the name of protocols and safety?

Kathryn: So I have to give our staff tremendous credit because we had a 22-page standard operating procedure. It talked about everything from how people would be checked in to what to do around cleaning and disinfecting and over six weeks of camp, Monday through Friday, nine to three every day through the whole summer, we had one COVID case. I think it is incredibly, incredibly impressive. I think it was also because we were able to have so many activities outdoors and we know that we can be a little bit safer outdoors.

Yeah. Back to Kim again with the protocols in place. What is your A, B, or C letter grade?

Kim: Oh, it was A+ because I know my son is going to tell me what you did. I asked him every day and I’m like, “Did people wear their mask? Did people clean up?” And he said that, on the hour, they got taken to the bathroom and that they had to stop everything that they were doing and wash their hands. I was very happy with his level of disappointment that they had to keep washing their hands.

Kathryn, what has been learned in pivoting, in reducing some of the services, but also, making it fun, making it welcoming for kids. I mean, you had to be resilient, so did the kids.

Kathryn: You have to adapt and you have to remain relevant. We could have closed our doors and said, “We can’t make this happen this summer.” We had a really good sense of what people wanted, what people would be comfortable with, and what we needed to do, as you said, to save summer for kids.

Kim, let’s get some teachers notes in addition to the grades. Any suggestions for going forward?

Kim: Max, you had some suggestions on the water guns.

Max: The weird thing about the water guns at camp was that it was really easy to get hit because you only really had one shot in them. So it’s just like: Shoot, fill, shoot, fill, shoot, fill, shoot, fill.

OK, so we need to make a change to that. I appreciate you all gathering in the park here today. We are socially, physically distanced. And I think this worked out great with three different recording devices. Thanks for getting together. I appreciate it.

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