The Star-Herald

Wintergreen plans for in-person summer camps, with some changes

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — For the first time in several months, Wintergreen Arts Center will offer in-person classes, through its annual Summer Arts program, all while aiming to balance social distancing with the need for kids to have fun and escape reality.

Wintergreen executive director Dottie Hutchins and summer instructor Shaye McHatten knew from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March that they might have to adjust certain aspects of the summer camps to meet state regulations.

The nonprofit arts organization has been holding pre-K classes through Zoom and a private Facebook group and after-school arts has continued through Facebook craft videos.

But as the guidelines for summer camps were put in place, allowing for group gatherings of up to 50 people as of June 1, both Hutchins and McHatten were soon relieved to find out that the camps could occur in person as normally as possible.

“We realize that it’s a fluid situation, so we’re prepared to move online if we have to,” McHatten said, acknowledging the uncertainties caused by COVID-19.

With many children and parents feeling burned out from online instruction, Hutchins said that Wintergreen staff have received overwhelming enthusiasm about holding the in-person camps.

“When our registration opened on May 1, we sold 100 spots,” Hutchins said. “Once we had the guidelines from the state [for summer camps], it was just a matter of putting things in place for each camp.”

Throughout June and July, McHatten is teaching seven weeklong camps of various themes, which cost $40 per camp, as well as Art with HeART — a free program set to occur Monday through Thursday from June 15 to July 23 at the Presque Isle Housing Authority.

Pine Street Elementary teacher Sharmon Clark is also bringing classes on mindfulness to Wintergreen in June and early July.

The full schedule of camps also entails many necessary changes to promote students’ health and safety, McHatten noted. All children will be given their own art supplies that staff members will sanitize and store separately after each class. Parents will drop off their children at Wintergreen’s front entrance, where a staff member will be waiting for them. Children will exit through the building’s back entrance, also with a staff member, but parents and guardians must call Wintergreen when they arrive and wait outside.

Although Wintergreen will ask parents to send their children to camps with masks, McHatten said that they are planning “mask breaks,” including walks outside, so that children do not grow impatient with the face coverings. Tables will be rearranged six feet apart and only siblings will be allowed to sit in the same space.

“We recognize that many kids don’t quite grasp social distancing, so we want to make their experiences as normal as possible,” McHatten said.

Hutchins echoed that statement and pointed out that the limit of 16 students will allow staff members to manage the camps much more easily.

“We’ve had as many as 24 students at a time, but this year we truly need to be able to maintain social distancing so that kids won’t have to wear masks 100 percent of the time,” Hutchins said.

The Wintergreen staff is looking forward to expanding the summer program with the new mindfulness camps and a second location for Art with HeART. Through a Giving Tuesday GoFundMe campaign, Wintergreen raised $1,466 for Art with HeART, with $1,000 coming from an anonymous, offline donor.

Originally the Sargent Family Community Center was set to become the second location for Art with HeART. But due to a recent decision not to open the center in June, Wintergreen is seeking an alternative site to host the second class.

Wintergreen will also offer three new weekly camps — Mermaid and Pirate Camp, Around the World Camp and Create a Castle. McHatten is especially excited for Create a Castle, where students will receive a wooden castle dollhouse to design and decorate.

“It’ll be an open-ended project that really gives them a lot of creative control,” McHatten said. “They all get to keep their castles, so it’ll be something they can hold onto forever.”

This year the Summer Arts camps are starting and ending in June and July instead of July and August due to McHatten, a recent college graduate, accepting an elementary school teaching position in Vermont. But, as a long-time instructor for the summer program, she has remained committed to seeing children grow artistically and personally in recent years.

McHatten said that dealing with COVID-19-related struggles at home makes the opportunity to dive into their creativity and interact with others all the more important for local children.

“We want to reach as many kids as possible because art is such a powerful way for them to escape,” McHatten said. “Also, the environment we offer helps everyone get to know each other and feel part of a warm, welcoming community.”

Though many of the spots for camps are filled, Hutchins said that a limited number of spots are still available. People can register by calling Wintergreen at 207-762-3576 and can find more information on Wintergreen’s website.

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