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In-Depth: Summer camps reopen under new normal

Pandemic forced camps to change
Posted at 5:55 AM, May 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-24 10:17:26-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - At Encore Creative Arts Camp in Kearny Mesa, co-owner Leo Kats is getting ready for kids to return.

"We have 20 different options for kids," Kats says. "And with the outdoor space that we have, it has allowed us to keep the kids engaged but also give them all kinds of different activities."

Kats started his camp last summer in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. He turned his 25,000-square foot event center into a place where kids can learn and grow.

"Camp has always been important," he says. "It's different than going to school because it's not as much pressure to get good grades. You're going to learn things, but you're going to have fun."

Last year, Encore had an enrollment of about 250 kids. This summer, Kats plans to expand now that the Pandemic is easing. He says the experience with health and safety from last year will make this summer safer.

"We actually had zero outbreaks last year," says Kats. "This year, we hope to have everything go as smoothly if not better."

Encore is one of the dozens of summer camps across San Diego, making adjustments to operate in-person this summer.

The YMCA, one of San Diego's largest summer camp programs, plans to hold in-person camp at 15 locations, serving 20,000 kids. That's about a third of their usual enrollment.

"We are super pumped for camp at the YMCA," says Child Youth Development Director Natalie Carroll.

"Camp has completely been re-innovated in every possible way. We went back to the basics."

The YMCA held an in-person camp last year as well. They also had kids on campuses for daycare and educational programming throughout the year. Carroll says they basically invented all of the health and safety protocols the County put in place for schools.

Still, they had to make adjustments for this summer.

Surveys of parents showed they wanted more from a summer camp after their kids had missed a year of in-person learning. Carroll says parents wanted the camps to focus on socialization and preparing kids to return to class.

"What are the skills that maybe kids didn't get to practice as much this last year that they need to practice in camp to be ready for school next year? That's going to be huge focus," Carroll says.

"That's something we've really never focused on before."

Still, she says the main priority will be making sure the kids have fun.

"If your kids are ready to make friends learn some skills, and just be in the outdoors, this is the place to be," says Carroll.