Summer was ending, and the owners and staff at Out and About Day Camp in DeForest figured they’d be returning to their normal jobs.
Parents of the kids they cared for had other ideas. They asked about having a virtual day camp.
Their jobs made it difficult to watch over their children at home as the DeForest Area School District started the school year virtually.
At first, Lynnie Loughran and Jerry Schwenn, who are co-owners and co-directors of the camp, were apprehensive, but they soon warmed up to the concept.
An enthusiastic Loughran said, “That’s fine. I like working with kids.”
Out and About has run a summer day camp for the last 14 years. It usually takes place at Yahara Elementary School, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, the facility was closed. So, they needed to find another spot.
A space on Market Street next to Aranda’s Mexican Restaurant was available.
“We figured that was a good direction to go and everything finally fit into place,” said Loughran.
Serving 25 kids, ranging in age from 5-years-old to 11, the virtual day camp is going well, according to Loughran, who noted that Out and About Day Camp has four staff members, including her, of qualified teachers.
“It’s been really good,” said Loughran. “We have wonderful parents who are open and understanding and we have great communication.”
Out and About Day Camp staff knew that students from the school district used Google Chrome. They also knew that school started around 8 a.m. So, they set up everything to align with school schedules, with students meeting in-person and divided up into the camp’s five classrooms.
“They’re basically at school, but they’re at Out and About Day Camp,” said Loughran.
The day camp runs from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. At 7:30 a.m., the students go to their desks, and they attend school virtually. After the school day, which runs from 7:40 a.m. to 2:40 p.m., is over, they divide up and transition into the day camp, which includes outside activities, walks and different projects.
“We decided after the school day was done, we wanted to get them outside,” said Loughran.
While in school, students practice social distancing, keeping 6 feet apart. They also wear masks both inside and outside. The camp is licensed by the state, so it follows state guidelines, including those related to the pandemic.
Loughran compared it to “Little House on the Prairie,” even though she made it clear that it is not a one-room schoolhouse where everybody congregates in a single space. Students split up into multiple classrooms at the site. Loughran said the teachers in the DeForest Area School District have also worked well with the day camp. She explained that they’ve been understanding if students get kicked off their Google Meets. The virtual day camp has been a positive experience. Keeping up with the changes necessitated by COVID-19 is a challenge, but Loughran and company are up for it. So are the students, it seems.
“Every day is a learning experience,” said Loughran. “Those little guys know what they’re doing. They know how to get on Google Meets. Every day is a different story. We’re just taking it one day at a time.”