Upper Valley summer camp provides training ground for return to school

Published: Jul. 6, 2020 at 4:20 PM EDT
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A handful of elementary schools in the Upper Valley are getting a crash course on what education could look like in the COVID-19 era. Students in Bethel are back at school for a 5-week summer camp program -- a test run for what's to come this fall.

"Given the circumstances, I'm just glad we have camp," said Anna Stone, a 5th grader at the the One Planet day camp. It's a mix of arts and crafts, team building, STEM activities, and physical play. For some of these campers, it's the first time they've interacted with peers in months.

"I was excited to get out of school, but after a while I just got bored and wanted to see friends," said Brenden Therrien, a 6th grader.

And it's not just the kids who are happy to be back on school grounds. "To see the kids faces light up and not have to see it through a screen and to see it genuinely and naturally in their environment is huge," said Stephanie Russ, a teacher.

But this summer's camp at White River Valley Supervisory Union schools is a lot different than previous years. Camper are separated into pods and each has his or her own island within that pod. Hand washing is done between each activity. Fields trips were called off.

"We can now use the playground. We are continuing to stay physically and socially distant but we can now allow kids to be outside with masks," Russ said.

"Being six-feet apart isn't a big deal, but it's not the greatest," Therrien said.

"When we are walking, it's hard," Stone added.

It's information the district is using to prepare for fall. "We don't know what the school year is going to look like yet, so we don't know what after school is going to look like," said Amy Gray, who coordinates the school's after school programs. "This camp and this experience will help make good decisions for the school year."

And yes, these kids are looking forward to going back to school -- pretty unusual since summer is still in full swing.

"I don't want to catch the virus, but I do want to go back to school," Therrien said.

"I don't want to have to do it virtually because that means a lot of opportunities canceled," Stone said.

A total of eight elementary schools in the district are taking part in the camps. After the five weeks are over, educators will reevaluate to see what went right and what went wrong to be better prepared for the next school year.