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East TN summer camps get creative to social distance, provide sense of normalcy to children

The CDC is releasing guidelines for camps opting for smaller in person groups, but many camps are choosing to go virtual.
Credit: WBIR
Students attend the first Summer STEM Camp at North Clinton Elementary School.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Parents are starting to realize the difficulties of signing up for summer camps.

The CDC is releasing guidelines for camps opting for smaller in-person groups, but many camps are choosing to go virtual.

Camp adjustments come with a lot of questions for parents like Mike and Tracie Smith, whose son Miles is used to a summer full of camps to keep him busy. But this year, they're just not sure where to start. 

"What's going to be available? When it's going to be available? Is there a parameter we don't feel comfortable with?" said Mike. 

"I think it's important for us that he feels as much normalcy as possible," said Tracie. 

Some camps are canceling all together, like the Summer Kids Play Program at the Phyllis Wheatley Center in Knoxville.

Others plan on having mini sessions with limited availability to adhere to CDC guidelines, like Camp Arrowwood in Sevierville.

The CDC recommends screening everyone for symptoms, social distancing and adjusting activities.

But for UT Gardens, camp organizers are going partly virtual. "In the morning i'll meet with the kids on Zoom," said garden educator Whitney Welch. "The whole thing isn't going to be on the computer, if kids are able to they can go outside and do some of the activities."

The Explore to Soar program in Anderson County plans to do the same, using journals and phone calls to keep in touch with kids without a computer. 

"It's taken a lot of creativity and rethinking the status quo of how you would normally do it," said Welch. She said camp at home is a big change, but provides a sense of normalcy.

"We're just trying to find that good mix that'll also make him have an enjoyable summer," said Tracie. 

Most camps have their registration open. Many have said if they do end up canceling, refunds will be offered. 

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