B y Jared Stamm

The Rutland Recreation Department has partnered with Rutland Regional Medical Center, Visiting Nurses Association and the Greater Rutland County Supervisory Union to provide mandated childcare/camp for essential workers during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Rutland Recreation Department superintendent Kim Peters coordinates the program. “We’re providing care for students of essential workers in the Rutland public schools, Mill River Unified Union School District, Slate Valley Unified School District and Greater Rutland County Supervisory Union,” she said.

The program takes place at the Rutland Rec Community Center, which is the former gymnasium of the College of St. Joseph on Clement Road in Rutland.

“When the college closed, I reached out to the mayor, and we took over the gym about six months ago,” Peters said. In addition to a college-sized gymnasium, the facilities include a workout room, a fitness room, two racquetball courts and four locker rooms.

Rutland Recreation Department superintendent Kim Peters

Rutland Recreation Department superintendent Kim Peters coordinates the program.

“It’s a totally different kind of camp than we’re used to,” Peters said, and it required training for the camp’s 10-person staff, which is made up of young people who have worked for Rutland Rec before. It includes three groups of siblings and a boyfriend and girlfriend of two of the siblings.

“All of the counselors are trained in CPR and first-aid certified,” she said. In addition, the counselors had additional training that focused on three main objectives, based on CDC and Vermont Department of Health Guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, namely washing hands, disinfecting the areas in which the camp takes place and social distancing.

Two weeks ago, Peters said, was the first week the camp had children every day. “We averaged about 11 children a day. Last week, the camp averaged about 15 children per day,” said Peters. “We expect the numbers to increase as parents are called to work. And with the schools closed to the end of the school year, it’s likely the camp will continue until we start our summer camps.”

The facility can accept 50 children at a time, but will probably max out at 35, she said.

The biggest challenge so far, of course, is social distancing. “The kids do great with washing their hands, and we do great with disinfection, but kids are used to being next to each other, they’re used to high-fiving,” Peters said. “We try to keep them aware of the need for social distancing without scaring them.”

When kids arrive in the morning, they are seated at tables in the center’s large lobby. “All the tables are spaced out and labeled with the number of kids who can sit at them,” Peters said. “Siblings can sit together.”

While the camp is not an educational facility, most of the kids do their homework in the morning. “That’s when they’re most productive,” Peters said.

Activities during the rest of the day include a maximum of two hours of television time, crafts, outside activities and more. “We have bikes here that kids can use. We have racquetball courts they can play in. There’s a lot of hide and seek and red light-green light,” she said. “Kids need to be creative, but we’ve also got 50 pages of activities kids can participate in.”

What campers don’t have access to is card games or checkers, usually staple activities at camp. “We want to limit the amount of hard surfaces and games that they touch,” Peters said.

The camp generally runs 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., with extended hours because not every parent’s hours are the same. “Some nurses work 12-hour shifts,” Peters said.

While the number of kids at camp is gradually increasing, Peters said, “I don’t see us maxing out until May 1 probably,” at which point the Godnick Adult Center and the Courcelle Building could be used if needed.

Parents who would like their kids to attend can contact their child’s school, Peters said, who will do the initial screening to determine whether kids qualify for inclusion, “and that’s based on whether or not their parents are essential workers.”

“I think we’re doing a good job,” she said, “and because we’re growing slowly we’re learning week by week what works well and what’s realistic for us.”

For more information on the program, visit the Rutland Rec website at https://www.rutlandrec.com/essentialpersons. Parents can also contact Peters directly at [email protected] or 802-773-1822.

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