Bay Area summer camp provider goes national to address pandemic learning loss

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- When the coronavirus pandemic turned the world upside down, it wasn't always for the worst. Camp EDMO is just one example.

In 2004, it started operating summer camps in the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento. It would run camps of up to 200 students at some sites.

But last year, COVID-19 restrictions forced the nonprofit to move its camps online.

In a matter of weeks, the staff had to figure out how to do everything online, from teaching courses to training and managing staff.

They didn't know it then, but going virtual was creating a huge opportunity.

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"We had kids enrolling from Michigan and Florida and Texas. Literally, overnight we were serving kids from all over the country," said Eduardo Caballero, Camp EDMO co-founder.

In the summer of 2020, more than 5,000 children from 47 states enrolled in their online summer camps.

So this year, when they resumed in-person camps, parents all over the country kept asking the same question.

"We had families as us, 'Are you going to have camps near us,'" recalled Caballero, whose decided there was no turning back.

Whereas before the pandemic staff training took place in person, now it was set up to be done online. So was their curriculum development and supply ordering and delivery. With their new remote management system in place, Camp EDMO ventured farther than before and this summer opened in-person camps in San Diego and Austin.

It also developed new partnerships to offer in-person camps in San Francisco, Marin, Alameda and Napa.

The Napa Valley Unified School District used funds from the CARES Act to partner with Camp EDMO and offer free summer camp to 2,000 children this year. Foster kids and those experiencing homelessness were given priority enrollment.

"Many of our families in the service industry have been financially impacted because of COVID-19. This is our way of enrolling students whose families may not have been able to do that for their children," said Pat Andry-Jenning, Superintendent of Instructional Services for Napa Valley Unified.

In the past, 25% of families enrolled in Camp EDMO were getting free or reduced tuition. This year, because of grants and special funding, the number of children attending for free or at a discount has jumped to 75%.

That's important. A 2013 study by ExpandEDSchools found that kids from middle and upper income families get to experience 6,000 more learning hours by the 6th grade than kids living in poverty. That inequality comes primarily from access to after-school activities and summer camps.

"Students need this additional learning time to be able to sort of make up for some of the unfinished learning that happened during the school year because of the pandemic," said Andry-Jennings.

This year, camps are putting special focus on social-emotional learning to help kids prepare for regular school after more than a year of distance learning and isolation.

"Each day is filled with half STEAM classes and half social-emotional health," said site manager Robert Stewart. "Every day kids have team time and that is when counselors work with them to explore their emotions and understand each other's emotions and feelings."

It's a need that Constance Ganong noticed in her son, Elan.

"He would talk all the time about missing his friends. Seeing other kids in a big setting and playing outside is the exact opposite of what happened this past year. It's a complete change for the better," said Ganong.

The remote management system is allowing Camp EDMO to operate in 30 sites this summer, with some locations with as few as 15 students.

It is continuing to offer virtual camps as well until August 13.

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