Camp Gan Israel Remains Open, Healthy, and Positive

Not one complaint is heard from the cluster of children waiting outside Camp Gan Israel in Burlington, VT as they wait to be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 before they are allowed to enter camp. Instead chatter, laughter, and smiles fill the sidewalk each morning as campers patiently and excitedly stand with their friends awaiting the activities of camp ahead.

Along with all other summer camps across the nation, Camp Gan Israel of Burlington, VT, which is part of the largest and fastest growing networking of Jewish day camps in the world for children ages 5-12, was forced to decide whether to close for the summer or adjust to new mandatory childcare regulations. The regulations were set on June first by Vermont due to COVID-19. Many summer camps found the easiest and safest option to close for the summer, but with encouragement from parents, those at Camp Gan Israel decided to take on the challenge of remaining open.

Adjusting the camp to obey the new childcare regulations was challenging, but not difficult for Program Director, Draizy Junik who has been running the camp for six years. Before opening camp Junik, along with other staff, attended meetings in regard to COVID-19 and childcare to learn what adjustments should be made to keep everyone safe. Junik explained that it was all about figuring out the right thing to do. So, once they developed a plan, they were able to smoothly open camp on their projected date of June 29 and maintain the structure since.

Camp leader Maxine Kravitz, Mini Gan counselor for ages three and four-year olds, explained how the camp is a beneficial environment for children to freely learn and grow as people, whereas in school they are faced with restrictions. She has not recognized any impacts on those benefits from COVID-19. For her, that reveals the importance of the camp remaining open for the development of the children. Other staff and parents also value the camp as a place for children to learn, play, develop social and creative skills.

To ensure safety while remaining open, a daily screening check-in was implemented to guarantee that no one is bringing the virus into the camp. The screening consists of both campers and parents getting their temperatures checked. The campers also get asked a series of questions regarding their health and the health of those around them. Parents, but not campers, are required to line up six feet apart and wear masks while screening occurs.

The campers are not required to social distance. Junik explained this is because all the campers know each other outside of camp, so they are not worried about them interacting. Kravitz shared that she is glad they do not have to social distance because requiring them to do so would be restrictive to their development at camp, which both the parents and staff value as important. She explained that it is necessary for them to have that room to interact with one another.

Other camps have been closed for the summer, including the YMCA camp Kravitz was supposed to work at. She explained that the YMCA camp is a much larger one so it would be more difficult for them to make changes that follow COVID-19 regulations. As there are less than 50 campers at Camp Gan Israel, the smaller numbers have made the adjustment process easier. Keeping to less than 25 people in a room has not been challenging and it is easy to organize outdoor field trips.

The activity schedule was adjusted so all the field trips take place in outdoor environments to ensure a higher level of safety for the campers and staff. Their field trips consist of going to farms, swimming holes, boating, hiking, etc., whereas before they would have a mix of indoor and outdoor trips. It is seen as the biggest change by the staff and the only change to Camp Gan Israel from the camper’s perspectives.

Junik said that the campers enjoy their schedule a lot more this year. The quantity of outdoor activities to previous years has not only been more enjoyable, but also more stimulating for their creativity, development, and health. Junik and Kravitz see this as a positive impact of COVID-19 and are going to continue to have a high quantity of outdoor field trips in years to come.

Another positive that Kravitz has noticed is the campers are much more trusting with the staff. She found that since the staff is upfront and clear with the campers about their current situation and challenges involving COVID-19, it has created a much more open dialogue between staff and campers. She sees this as a positive impact because it has allowed the campers to be more open about deeper discussions and questions.

The only recognizable challenge that COVID-19 has imposed are the limitations. Kravitz shared the limitations she has recognized at camp were within herself as she needs to be cautious about things she would not normally have to think about, such as the amount of people in a room and masks.

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