Izzie Alikpala works to control Peanut during a riding class at TRAK in 2016. TRAK will be moving forward with hosting its popular horse camp this summer with some new policies in place to keep campers and staff healthy during the pandemic. 

The school year is coming to a close. Many parents are returning to physical workplaces. Now what?

Like so many other areas of life right now, summer programming is a mixed bag — some programs are canceled; some are moving forward as planned with new procedures; others have pivoted to become virtual; some have pushed back start times to later in the summer; and some are still undecided.

Matt Anderson’s 7-year-old daughter was set to go to Fusion Camp at the University of Arizona — which Anderson says she loves — for her third or fourth year this summer.

When the camp was canceled, Anderson scrambled to find something else.

He turned to the Adia Barnes Basketball Academy. And then that was canceled, too. In fact, all on-campus summer programs at the UA have been canceled for youth under 18 through August. 

And virtual camps aren’t an option — both Anderson and his wife have jobs that can’t be done from home. Anderson works for Pima County’s adult probation department and his wife works for the Pima County Health Department.

Anderson’s almost 2-year-old daughter goes to Brichta Early Learning Center, which is run by TUSD. Brichta hasn’t been canceled, though the program is only accepting children of first responders.

“Almost every option that we called (a month ago), they asked if we were first responders or health-care workers,” Anderson says. Luckily, that stipulation worked out for his family, but he’s not sure what he would’ve done if it didn’t.

“We have my parents, but that becomes a hassle,” he says. “They’re 75 and 76 and they’re really good with the kids, but watching kids full-time at that age — I have a hard time asking them to do that.”

Since Anderson couldn’t find anything other than school-like camps — and for the sake of only needing to pick up and drop off the kids at only one place — he decided to enroll his 7-year-old at Brichta too.

Now that summer is settled, Anderson is hoping schools will open again in the fall.

Though he and his wife were able to work out new schedules with their bosses during this school semester, he’s not sure how long that would’ve been possible.

Plus, “it was kinda terrible,” he says. His wife went into work earlier, he went into work later and they often had to do homework into the night.

For Valerie Lane, planning which summer camps her 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son are attending each year is a process that involves a detailed Excel spreadsheet and coordinating with other parents so they can send their kids to camp together.

This year her kids were set to go to overnight camp at the YMCA, horse camp at TRAK, a bike camp and the “A” Camp at the University of Arizona Campus Recreation Center. Some of those camps have canceled and some are continuing, but Lane had to follow her gut and decided to keep her children home. 

Lane's kids attend Highland Free School and the teachers there were "stellar" at keeping the children engaged with at-home learning and assignments that would keep them busy for up to four hours per day, she says. Lane valued that time to focus on her work running an architecture firm and as a senior lecturer in the School of Architecture at the UA. 

For her kids, summer will involve filling a giant ice cream cooler with water in the backyard to splash around in, lots of creative projects with cardboard and popsicle sticks and maybe making some YouTube videos of the projects they've worked on to share with other parents. 

But she knows it will be challenging to maintain her workload and keep her kids busy.

"I've had to seriously manage my own career expectations," she says adding that being mom is her top job at the moment and her kids need her most during this time. 

"I'm realizing that I have to step up to them and just be OK with that." 

For parents who are still looking for programs and care this summer we are working to keep our #ThisIsTucson Summer Camp Guide as updated as possible, and encourage summer camps to submit their information to be included in this searchable database for parents.

Many popular programs have canceled their camps this summer citing health and safety concerns for campers and staff. 

The City of Tucson expects to have more information about the fate of its popular and affordable KidCo summer program next week. Pima County has yet to  make a decision about its youth programs. 

Michelle Saint Hilarie, the senior statewide program director for Child Care Resource & Referral, a state-funded agency that helps connect families to licensed, certified and registered child care providers, centers and summer camps, says the department has been anticipating a surge in demand for care for weeks, but so far the agency hasn't had too many calls. She thinks that might change later in the summer as more parents go back to work and need to find options for their children, particularly if their usual places are closed. 

She says that communication is key for both providers and parents as facilities do begin increasing enrollment and summer programs begin opening.

Providers should be prepared to communicate to parents all of the safety measures and guidelines they are following with their families and be sure they are equipped with enough protective equipment and cleaning supplies.

And parents should be sure to ask questions like whether temperature checks are being done, what staff is doing to sanitize and clean and how staff health is being monitored.

Here are a few ways camps are moving forward during the pandemic and a summer that is unlike any other.

Virtual camps

A summer without camp, just didn't seem like an option for the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona. Camps are a huge part of the organization's summer experiences for girls of all ages, with more than 1,300 campers taking part in overnight camps on Mount Lemmon and day camps at the Girl Scout Hacienda near Sabino Canyon every summer.

When it became clear in April that convening large groups of girls in one place was not likely this year, based on guidance from state and federal agencies, the Girl Scouts team began brainstorming other options. Camp Log On, a virtual camp experience was born. The decision to cancel in-person programming was a difficult and emotional one to make but was the right one, says MacGyver Tank, the organization's chief operating officer.

Camp Log On will have six different themed weeks of camp, and each week participants will be sent a box of supplies for the week's activities. Girls will have daily Zoom sessions with camp staff and with each other for guided activities and instructions for self-paced activities. The organization is planning to accommodate up to 200 girls per week.

"We're taking the worst of a situation and turning it into the best and we really want our girls to stay engaged with us and have that Girl Scout experience and the opportunity to touch all of those pillars and connect with our community," Tank says.

Both Live Theatre Workshop and the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center have been delivering virtual programs for kids since March when the governor's stay-at-home order went into effect. And both organizations will continue to build upon their programming for most or part of the summer.

The cultural center decided to continue with virtual programs after surveying its students and staff and because the center has small classrooms which do not support adequate social distancing, says executive director Susan Chan.

The camp runs throughout June with the theme "Travel across China" where kids will learn about different provinces, foods and culture. Campers in groups of ten will meet online with their instructors twice per week for one hour. One meeting will focus on conversational Chinese language instruction and the other will focus on culture where kids will learn the Lion Dance and Chinese calligraphy.

Live Theatre Workshop canceled all of its in-person camps initially scheduled for June and will instead offer online classes on Zoom for different age groups that will meet once or twice per week for one to two hours to learn character development, storytelling, and puppetry.

Since March, the organization has taught classes, hosted showcases and premiered plays all online and students have been very receptive to the new format, says Amanda Gremel the director of children's programming.

"I was worried that maybe students would be worn out on all the virtual time that they have had to do for school but that is just the opposite. Parents have told me that their students countdown the days, minutes, and even seconds until our class time," Gremel says. "Our class provides a chance for students to see their friends, get creative, and escape for an hour or two. We also have even been able to meet new students who don't even live here in Arizona."

In-person summer camps

Several camps are still proceeding as planned with their scheduled programs, or hosting their camps later in June or July with new policies to maximize social distancing and sanitization.

Live Theatre Workshop is hopeful that it will be able to have week-long camps in person in July and is making plans for new safety measures.

This includes taking employee and camper temperatures upon arrival, assigning seats for campers with space between them, having plenty of hand sanitizer and hand washing stations available and limiting the number of guests who can attend end-of-camp performances to just one family member.

Performances will also be directed to limit the number of students together on stage at any given time.

TRAK, which hosts popular horse riding and care summer camps, is busy gearing up for its first summer camp session happening on May 25.

“It’s definitely going to be different this year, we’ve had a lot of people pull out of camp because they’re concerned about everything, but we’ve also had a lot of people signing up,” says Chelsea Menke the program director at TRAK. She says those that have signed up or have not canceled their reservation are looking forward to having some normalcy and social interaction for their kids.

She expects to have about 20 campers per week, a slight decrease from the usual 28 in previous summers. Campers are always kept in groups of six to seven and rotated through different activities on the five-acre property so keeping minimal interaction between the groups will be easy to do, Menke says.

Campers will have their temperatures checked, will have to wash their hands between each activity, and saddles, grooming supplies and common areas will be disinfected multiple times a day. And the camp will be chlorinating the water in its inflatable slide in alignment with newly issued guidelines from the state and local health department.

The owners of This n' That Creative Studio ultimately decided to continue with summer camps to help provide an option for parents who are heading back to work and give kids the chance to get out of the house and work on creative projects. 

Like other camps, staff will wear face masks and high touch areas and equipment will be sanitized and the camp will utilize double the space that has in previous years and will only open for up to 20 kids, split into two groups. 

"Personal experiences with our own children, inquiries from customers asking when we would reopen and even families moving forward with camp registrations were all factors we considered when evaluating whether we would continue with camps this summer," says owner Ria Patino in an email. "We especially understand the toll this quarantine may have taken on the mental health of families and we feel that our camps will help alleviate some of the stresses and anxiety endured during this time."

The YMCA of Southern Arizona has been operating an emergency childcare program for essential workers for the last several weeks and next week it will transition to its regular summer camp offerings. The centers will continue implementing its safety protocols that include twice-a-day temperature checks, keeping kids in small groups and making sure the groups remain separated throughout the facilities, says CEO Kurtis Dawson. 

Though camps will continue, they will be on a much smaller scale to adhere to the CDC's small group guidelines, with only about 300 campers each week down from the usual 1,000 in previous years, Dawson says. But the organization is looking forward to delivering a great experience for its campers. 

"These kids lost spring and we're hoping at the YMCA that we can save summer for them," Dawson says. 

Registration for the YMCA's overnight camp at the Triangle-Y Camp Retreat Center will open on June 1 with the first session planned for June 14, says the camp's executive director Andy Hockenbrock. But, capacity will be limited to 48 campers per week. 

A Few Other Childcare Options

Arizona Childcare Resource & Referral is keeping its database updated with information about which childcare providers are open and accepting new enrollment. Parents who are looking for care can use the self service search tool on the organization's website, but Saint Hilarie asks that at the very least they call the service at 1-800-308-9000 to let them know they are looking for care so they can better gauge what the actual need is from the community.

• Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Education set up a website several weeks ago to help essential workers find childcare at a number of "Arizona Enrichment Centers". Workers in essential functions may qualify for priority childcare and may be eligible for a scholarship through the end of June. More information can be found here.

• Tucson Unified School District will continue to offer childcare services for first responders and other essential workers at the Brichta and Schumaker Early Learning Centers through June 30, and other changes could be made in July pending board presentation and approval, says Karla Escamilla a spokeswoman for the district.

La Petite Academy and Childtime Learning Center, which has eight centers in Tucson has been open for the last several weeks and offering childcare for essential personnel. The centers plan to open up for anybody who needs childcare after Friday when the governor's stay at home order expires, barring any additional guidance from the state. The centers will continue following new safety procedures and policies including temperature and health checks for kids and staff each day, only allowing kids and staff in the classroom area, keeping small group sizes when possible and cleaning and sanitizing all high touch areas.