MERIDEN — On a mostly sunny Thursday with temperatures hovering in the mid-80s, Cuno Camp on Beaver Lake Road was buzzing with activity.
Groups of kids participated in sack races, tire jumps, dove in a waterslide and dunk tank, jumped in a bouncy house and sat down to do their face painting. Several hundred yards away, along the watery expanse of Beaver Pond, other groups were kayaking and fishing. And these are just a few of the activities that took place at the day camp, which the Boys & Girls Club of Meriden has long overseen.
Through a combination of local and statewide allocations of federal COVID-19 relief funds, summer camp providers, city leaders and educators at Meriden Public Schools have increased access Students in Summer Programs – efforts to prevent summer learning loss for school-aged children, prepare them for the upcoming school year, and help these students progress socially and emotionally.
Statewide, the state Department of Education has invested more than $12 million of its COVID-19 relief funds in local programs like the Boys & Girls Club of Meriden to improve summer programs. . Locally, the city of Meriden has allocated $1.2 million of its federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act to provide vouchers for children to attend camps including Cuno Camp, Mountain Day Camp Mist from Meriden YMCA, Girls Inc. and Valentin Karate.
Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz, during a visit to Camp Cuno late Thursday morning, touted the impact of the investments, which have prioritized communities like Meriden which Bysiewicz says have been “affected from disproportionately by the pandemic”.
The grants allowed children to participate in high-quality programs, socialize and be prepared for their return to school, Bysiewicz noted.
‘It really makes a difference’
Meriden Boys & Girls Club director Larue Graham said the investments have given children in Meriden “a wonderful opportunity” to get out and participate in interactive programs.
“It allowed a lot of kids who normally couldn’t afford camp to come to camp all summer long,” Graham said. “So we want to thank the state for investing in our children. It really makes a difference, their social emotional well-being and the ability to learn different things.
After the summer of 2020, when attendance at summer camps was largely restricted due to the pandemic, programs rebounded the following year with the help of pandemic relief funds.
This week’s theme at Cuno Camp was carnival, hence the emphasis on carnival-like activities, said Krystle Blake, assistant director of the Boys & Girls Club.
Joining Bysiewicz and the leaders of the Boys & Girls Club were State Representative Hilda Santiago and State Representative Michael Quinn. Both Santiago and Quinn stressed the importance of providing children with opportunities for social interaction and learning.
The isolation the children experienced during the first months and summer of the pandemic took its toll on the children, Santiago noted.
“This summer, going out with other kids helps them socialize. It keeps them busy. It makes them think about other things because they’re having fun,” Santiago said. At the same time, children learn. “They are learning to be with each other.”
She added: “Mental health is very important because we want to make sure that children are not bored, depressed or isolated.
A reporter for the Record-Journal contacted the campaign of Republican State Rep. Laura Devlin, who is running against Bysiewicz, a Democrat, in the race for lieutenant governor.
Devlin, in a written statement, told the newspaper, “If there’s anything this pandemic experience has taught us, it’s the incredible importance of organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs of Connecticut and the various programs after school and during the summer holidays offered to our students.
“Every day I interact with families who depend on these opportunities. Not only do these programs provide a safe and nurturing way for children to be busy and active throughout the day, but they also allow parents to maintain full-time employment with the confidence that their children are growing in a positive environment. After-school programs and summer camps are wonderful aids to the social and emotional development of all children,” said Devlin.
Chance to grow, make learning fun
Boys & Girls Club leaders have estimated that over the entire summer, some 3,000 to 3,500 children – many of them Meriden – will participate in Cuno Camp programs.
For older students, the camp offers volunteer and employment opportunities, as well as similar opportunities for growth.
Makayla Ori, 13, is a junior counsellor. Ori, who attends Wilcox Technical High School in the fall, leads a group of a dozen children each day, guiding them through activities on land or near the pond.
“I’ve seen a lot of progress throughout, with the kids,” Ori said, adding that the opportunity to be a junior counselor sounded interesting. She will continue to work for most of the summer.
The city has distributed 1,742 vouchers for its Get Kids to Camp initiative, according to figures shared by Chris Bourdon, director of parks and recreation for Meriden.
Camp providers aren’t the only organizations offering summer programs. Meriden Public Schools offers a host of summer programs for students that combine academic enrichment and socially interactive activities, offered in conjunction with the city’s summer camp providers.
One of the programs is for elementary school students, explained Heidi Driscoll, director of the district’s summer program.
The goal of the program is to help curb learning loss over the summer, while making lifelong learning fun and striking a balance between the two, Driscoll said.
“The children want to come. They want to come to summer school,” Driscoll said, adding, “We’ve all seen the impact of COVID. It’s a good place for them, at school, to talk to their friends.
“…They enjoy being in school and they enjoy going to camp,” Driscoll said, adding that the students who participated “can’t tell me enough about how much they enjoyed coming to the camp.” school”.