Exploring a Non-Traditional Summer Camp Experience

School of Professional & Continuing Education (SPCE)

For the 2020 summer, Professional & Continuing Education (PCE) Youth Programs planned to offer 17 camps/programs for students in grades Kindergarten-12th – our largest offering to date. When COVID hit in the midst of marketing those programs, we had to quickly re-create opportunities, which meant moving as many camps online as possible, and even adding an additional camp.

College for Kids, one of our top running camps, is typically offered in January and February on Saturdays and as a weeklong camp in the summer. With COVID changes, PCE quickly created a new version to be delivered online during May by identifying local teachers, JMU faculty, staff, students and community members as instructors and training them on the online tools needed for the course. The program was extremely successful with nearly 100 students in 16 online classes.

PCE Youth Programs used existing and created new partnerships to bring opportunities to confined students. Our first online cooking class, in partnership with the Friendly City Food Co-op, was overwhelmingly positive and included providing curb-side pick-up of cooking materials. Partnerships with Explore More Children’s Museum and Harrisonburg High School Journalism Club offered AM and PM sessions in various innovative classes, such as photography and journalism, Jr. Dancing Dukes, Directed Drawing, Globetrotting and much more.

Renewable Energy Camp was a first-time program and partnership with JMU’s Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Energy, which was also moved online. Once again, curb-side pickup of materials was offered for students to build their own solar oven, wind turbines and more. Feedback from a parent following the camp included “My son has really enjoyed and learned so much in the past two days. We couldn't believe all the kits packed together for the camp. They are things he has always wanted to try and have. The camp style works out really well for kids to try all kinds of ideas with or without others help. The instructions given were great to inspire more interest and learning and...lots of experiments. He mentioned this is the best camp he has had. I wish all school classes are done this way. Please keep up the good work and never stop inspiring the kids.”

Another first-time program, Next Steps Summer Dance Intensive, was with JMU CVPA and DanceWorks Chicago. This residential camp was transitioned to an online intensive and included students from three different states: Virginia, New Jersey and Wyoming. The faculty and staff with JMU Dance and DanceWorks Chicago created a daily 3-hour online program that culminated with a final live showing. The students walked away with a sense of connection to JMU and I think will also serve as a recruitment tool for JMU and JMU Dance.

Our successful and highly attended Science Explorers Camp is in its eighth year in partnership with JMU College of Science and Mathematics, JMU Department of Physics and Astronomy, the John C. Wells Planetarium, and Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies. Again, we adjusted to create an online experience for elementary and middle school age students, though offering the residential program for high school students was not possible. Curb-side pick-up for all camp materials was made available. Students created their own litmus paper for testing of the pH scale, studied chemical reactions, created and built their own hovercraft, learned about the science of fire and more.

The last week of July saw the completion of our camp offerings with our Summer College for Kids program. While not all of the programs could be transitioned to online, we offered our Next Food Network Star Challenge class and Uncovering the Mysteries of Science class, using the curb-side pick-up for materials.

While we greatly missed seeing our students face-to-face, creating this online opportunity has drastically opened up ideas for us to further continue learning, whether in person, via an online format, or some hybrid that mixes both.

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Published: Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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