- As a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many students are isolated at home, posing unique challenges for parents and educators alike.
- Summer camps like Stomping Ground, in New York, and Brave Trails, in California and Maryland, are offering virtual programming for campers on platforms like Zoom and Instagram.
- Virtual camp sessions can provide kids with a sense of community and consistency during the crisis.
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There are few childhood institutions as escapist as summer camp, and in the midst of the current pandemic, some camps are opening their virtual doors to connect with campers from the comfort of their own homes. A number of American Camp Association accredited camps across the nation are offering virtual programming, helping kids find community online and providing a respite for parents who are likely juggling both work and childcare unexpectedly during the day.
One of these camps is Stomping Ground, an overnight summer camp located in Saratoga, New York that aims to "inspire the next generation of radically empathetic decision makers," said Laura Kriegel, Stomping Ground's co-founder and director. Since March 16, the camp has been offering a variety of activity sessions over video chatting platform Zoom through a program called Hometown Stomping Ground. Virtual campers are able to choose from a variety of sessions that range from learning how to make smoothies to playing through a week-long Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
Up to 100 kids per day have been tuning in to Hometown Stomping Ground on Zoom, run by Stomping Ground staff and summer counselors who are volunteering their time. While most participants are former campers, new kids have joined in the fun as well. "We're so open and welcome to having anybody," Laura said. "You don't have to have come to Stomping Ground to come to Hometown. Anybody can join, it's a free service."
Other camps are using different social media platforms to connect with campers. Camp Brave Trails, a camp for LGBTQ youth and allies located in both California and Maryland, has been hosting virtual programming on its Instagram page. As the coronavirus pandemic began to worsen in the United States, staff members began to consider what things would look like for campers at home and decided to ramp up its digital outreach by creating Virtual Camp Brave Trails.
"We started to put together a schedule of virtual camp, creating these programs that we do live on our Instagram or through our story," Jake Young, Brave Trails' communications director, said. "We're giving a lot of different opportunities for our staff and campers to lead programs that we typically see at camp or fun little crafts that people can do at home, just to give them that sense of community and a reminder that we're all here for each other.
Virtual Camp Brave Trails sessions, which are hosted on Instagram live streams as well as stories saved on the camp's Instagram profile, cover a range of activities ranging from zine making to variety shows and open mics. Campers can engage in discussions by responding to questions posted on the account's story or submitting videos that Brave Trails then reposts.
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Hello BT Community! We hope you’re staying as safe and healthy as possible. Day 1 of Virtual Camp Brave Trails was absolutely magical and we are just getting started!! Here is the schedule for tomorrow’s day of camp. It’s FREE and anyone can follow along. Just head to our Instagram Stories and follow along (@bravetrails). Feel free to share with anyone who may need some fun and support right now. Sending much love to all our families & supporters. Let us know how we can support you.
Both Stomping Ground and Brave Trails are working to maintain identity and routine while taking programs online. Brave Trails is continuing its daily flag-raising ritual, bringing on members of its youth leadership program to explain the meaning and significance of different pride flags. Stomping Grounds is continuing to hold daily decompression sessions, which the camp calls "Embers," in order to further connect with campers and help them maintain a positive outlook.
Laura sees Hometown Stomping Ground as helping to provide kids with an element of consistency despite the constantly shifting nature of the pandemic. "We've had a lot of parents reach out and say that their kids are designing the rest of their day around the activities that they're attending at Hometown Stomping Ground," she said. "That consistency is going to lead to, I think, a sense of control and normalcy for them."
Brave Trails' virtual sessions are helping to foster queer community online at a time when many students are stuck and home isolated from community members. In the process, they're expanding the Brave Trails community as well. "Something really powerful that's come through it is that there's a lot of people who follow us, but maybe aren't out at home or don't come from a really safe environment to be out," Jake said. "I've gotten a lot of messages from campers at home that are like, I finally get to be part of Camp Brave Trails, and I never thought I would."
At the moment, both camps are planning to move forward with their summer sessions. For now though, they've succeeded in connecting with campers during a time of isolation and rapid change. "Camps have these temporary alternative universes that they create for kids throughout the summer," Laura said. "And while this pandemic is incredibly challenging and difficult and forcing so much hardship on so many families, camp is good at creating that kind of community and intentional space."
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