MARBLEHEAD – The summer inclusion day camp at the JCC of the North Shore might be able to open this summer, although it would start at a later date than usual due to the coronavirus crisis.
“We are taking registrations and expect to run camp pending state guidelines,” Marty Schneer, executive director of the JCCNS, said in an email to the Jewish Journal. “We expect it will probably start in July.”
Under a four-phase plan announced by Governor Charlie Baker last month, summer day camps are in the Phase 2 “Cautious” group, which will be allowed to open with restrictions and capacity limits. Baker also cautioned that a rise in coronavirus cases would delay the start of Phase 2.
If the spread continues to decline, the inclusion camp ‒ along with the others offered by the JCC – would open for its seventh year. Turnout has grown from 12 campers in its first year to 60 a few summers ago. It operates alongside KinderCamp and Camp Simchah on the JCC campus.
“Our plan is to run the inclusion program if the rest of the camp runs,” inclusion camp director Melissa Caplan said in an email. “Camps are supposed to open in Phase 2, but we still don’t know what the [Massachusetts] guidelines will be – and if day camp will be feasible. But keeping with our philosophy, if camp runs – everyone – no matter their ability or disability, is welcome.”
Youngsters with disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder, seizure disorder, social and emotional challenges, and cerebral palsy can take advantage of a valuable opportunity through the inclusion camp, Caplan said in an interview.
“They go to the camp with their siblings,” she said. “Without the program, they would not be able to participate so close to home with their siblings and peers … probably, they would only have a few options.”
The Marblehead schools closed March 12, and thoughts of camp were put on hold as the number of coronavirus cases climbed in April. But a decline in May has renewed hope that summertime activities will resume at some point.
“Normally, in the end of June we would have an extensive in-person orientation for staff,” Caplan said. “Instead, we have weekly Zoom conversations. We have not talked about what orientation would look like. I imagine online.”
The staff numbers between 14 and 20 for the inclusion camp, overseeing a variety of programs. Younger campers might participate in daily activities such as arts and crafts, gym, story time, snacks, and swim lessons. Older campers might take part in activities that are more team-based.
“Kids with special needs are at risk of regression without practicing the skills every single day,” Caplan said. “One practice is social skills … Being part of a group, there are opportunities to practice social skills. It’s very important.”
Caplan works in the Marblehead public school system, and she said the virtual learning that schools have shifted to makes things particularly difficult for children with disabilities and their parents.
“Parents are not trained in how to educate children with substantially significant needs,” she said. “Virtual learning is quite difficult on parents … They have no specific training in how to teach people with disabilities, maintain their attention.” And, she said, with “no hands-on learning, in front of a screen, it’s a big problem.”
Caplan said everybody involved in the inclusion camp, from parents to teen counselors to administrators, is “waiting with bated breath to hear what the state says we will be allowed to do.” She said that some parents are eager, while others are wary.
“COVID looms over us,” she said.
“Providing quality services to kids with special needs is often a challenge. You add to it restrictions, probably new restrictions, the fear of COVID, it makes everything even more complicated.”