Offload the kids at sleepaway virtual learning camp? Yes, you can

Plus: Vibe with our Teen Talk feature; Top news of the week

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Parents drop the kids off at YMCA’s Camp Harrison for a week of learning and fresh air; Card games instead of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

Robert Mangum, 10, does a flip on the “mountain bounce” during virtual learning camp at Camp Harrison while Caroline Schonberg, 8 (center) and Maggie Mangum, 12, jump. “You go to sleep easier here,” Robert says, “because you work all your energy out.”

by Cristina Bolling

BOOMER, N.C. — For all the talk of how virtual learning is overloading our kids with sedentary screen time and ratcheting up household tension, some families have found what seems to be an antidote 90 miles north — sending their kids to sleepaway “remote learning camp” in the mountains.

Camp Harrison, which is part of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte and has a robust summer camp program, is offering week-long remote learning camps throughout the fall for students in grades 3 through 12. The camp will also offer a four-week session just for teens in 10th and 11th grades that runs from late October to late November.

On a sunny afternoon on Wednesday, siblings Robert and Maggie Mangum logged off their laptops and joined new friend Caroline Schonberg, 8, for flips and cartwheels on the “mountain bounce,” a giant outdoor rubbery trampoline.

The Mangum kids haven’t been big fans of virtual learning, they said, because they miss being around other kids their age. At Camp Harrison, they feasted on tater tots, enjoyed the “really clean showers,” played with Ruthie the camp labradoodle and said they slept better than they do at home.

“When you’re at home, you don’t really get to interact with that many people. At lunch and recess you’re just like sitting there, eating by yourself,” said Robert Mangum, 10, who’s in fifth grade at Park Road Montessori. “Here we get to jump on the mountain bounce or play in the pavilion or just stretch outside. It makes us want to finish our work faster.”

School, then s’mores: Remote learning camp works like this: Kids stay in cabins grouped by gender and age and do their virtual learning in the camp’s dining hall during the day. Counselors and administrators print out students’ school remote learning schedules and make sure students are logged in and stay on track.

After schoolwork is done, campers unplug and head out for typical camp activities, from ropes courses and s’mores-making to fishing and climbing the rock wall.

Boxed lunches are available to grab-and-go since students’ schedules have them eating at different hours. Everyone sits down together for dinner around 5 p.m., and there’s an evening study hall for students who have homework to finish.

Camp staff, many of whom are college students who normally staff camp retreats and weekend programs, are suddenly virtual learning tutors. In a few cases, kids came to camp behind on their assignments, so counselors helped them complete their work, while reminding them that fun activities were waiting at the end of the day.

Some 18 kids ages 8 through 15 attended camp this week, the first week it was open, and all 18 were from the Charlotte area, including a group of four teenage girls from South Iredell High School who are friends. Camp leaders said they have the staffing to handle about 50 kids per session, although Camp Harrison is designed to hold up to 320 kids.

Kids and staff are screened and temperature-checked when they arrive, and have their temperatures taken daily while they’re at camp. There’s a nurse on site 24/7.

Camps run Sunday through Friday at a cost of $600 per camper, and kids can arrive two days early for an add-on $140 weekend camp. The four-week teen camp costs $2,750. Scholarships are available for families with financial need.

An unusual offering: Sleepaway virtual learning camps are a relative rarity across the country, with only a handful of camps known to be running them. A representative with the American Camp Association pointed out one in New Hampshire and one in Wisconsin, as well Camp Windward in Raleigh, which is offering a family camp for parents and kids to work and learn remotely together.

Many camps across the country either didn’t open at all last summer or did so with smaller numbers. (Camp Harrison typically has 200 to 220 campers per session, but this summer it had between 100 and 120 during most sessions.) Fall camps are helping some camps make up for lost summer income, according to the American Camp Association.

“It’s a great way of just breaking things up and giving (families) a change,” said Michael Landry, executive director of Camp Harrison. “I think for everybody, the monotony is just really what’s getting them.”

WiFi emergency: Camp Harrison ran sessions all summer long with 100 to 120 kids per session (no Covid cases were detected at camp or reported to have sprung from camp, Landry said), but operating a remote learning camp in the hinterlands of North Carolina has brought some new wrinkles — like internet connectivity.

Camp Harrison had upgraded its internet service last year, which supplied plenty of bandwidth, Landry said. But on the first Monday morning of camp, they had a crisis on their hands: Staff realized that not everybody could log on, because their router didn’t support enough devices.

They solved the problem swiftly. A handful of kids and staff headed down to the camp office to log on to classes while an employee ran out to buy a mesh router.

“We hooked that in, and we were good to go,” Landry said. (When asked about the internet speed, several kids said it was faster in Camp Harrison’s dining hall than at their homes. “It’s super fast,” said one 10-year-old.)

No ‘Grey’s’ or TikTok: For older kids, all the unplugging may be seen as a downside — no cell phones are allowed unless they’re being used for class, so TikTok and Instagram are out for the week.

Campers are allowed to bring their laptops to their cabins to charge, but they aren’t of much use otherwise because there’s no WiFi in the cabins.

On the first night of this week’s session, Landry said a group of girls asked him if they could skip climbing the rock wall to watch “Grey’s Anatomy” in the dining hall.

“I’m like, ‘No, you guys did not come here to watch videos,’” Landry laughed. “They said, ‘Can we play cards?’ I’m like, ‘Sure, that’s fine.’ So they sat and played cards and had a great time.

“That’s a big part of why we wanted to do this. You sit on a Zoom for four hours, and you’re just dead,” Landry said. “We wanted to give them some time outside, in nature, away from everything, away from the screen.”

A group of teenage girls from South Iredell High School, Lake Norman Charter School and Butler High School finish their remote learning before heading out for activities. “I’ve been way more productive here,” said Isabella Quesenberry, 14. “It’s a lot more stressful at my house than here. It’s calmer here.”

‘Awesome’ break for parents: For parents, the thought of getting a break from their kids seems more than OK. Boomer is less than two hours from Charlotte but offers the fresh mountain air you can’t get in a city. Camp Harrison sits on 2,100 acres and offers stunning views of mountain ridges and Lake Broyhill.

Elizabeth Schonberg, mom of 8-year-old Caroline, said Caroline spent a week at Camp Harrison this summer and wanted to go to remote learning camp as soon as she heard about it.

Schonberg, a stay-at-home mom, was also ready for a little break from all the togetherness. (She and her husband, J.J., also have a 13-year-old son who stayed home.)

“I was so ready for her to go and stay with someone else for a week,” Schonberg laughed. “I was like, ‘This is going to be awesome.’”

Schonberg said she checked in with Caroline’s teacher during the week to make sure her daughter was staying up-to-date with her assignments, tests and Zoom calls. All reports were positive.

“The communication is good, the fun is good, the learning has been good,” she said. “I’m so happy she got to experience it. I’m guessing when she gets in the car, she’s going to want to go back.”

Cristina Bolling is managing editor of The Ledger: cristina@cltledger.com


Today’s supporting sponsor is Soni Brendle:


Teen talk: Build your vocabulary

Impress and delight the young people in your life by using the words they use. The Ledger shows you how in this occasional Saturday feature.

Today’s word: VIBE

Pronunciation: vībe

Definition: Commonly used as a verb (vibin’, vibing), referring to a relaxed or “chill” state of mind

Used in a sentence: 

  • “Our shared love of Billie Eilish made him easy to vibe with.”

  • “Exams are over. Now we be vibin’.”

Ledger analysis: Older generations use the term ‘vibe’ to describe the atmosphere someone or something gives off, either positive, negative or neutral. (“My odd neighbor gives off creepy vibes.”) Younger generations use it more with a positive connotation, to describe being chill, or relaxed.

— Cecilia Bolling, age 15


This week in Charlotte: Visits from Biden and Trump, new rules for stadiums, CMS enrollment declines

On Saturdays, The Ledger sifts through the local news of the week and links to the top articles — even if they appeared somewhere else. We’ll help you get caught up. That’s what Saturdays are for.

Politics

  • Biden visits Charlotte: (Observer) Presidential candidate Joe Biden visited uptown Charlotte on Wednesday, talking to a closed group of black business owners about the struggles they have faced over the past few years and the importance of their vote. He also joined Mayor Vi Lyles for lunch at Mert’s Heart and Soul.

  • As does Trump: (WBTV) President Donald Trump conducted a closed rally at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport on Thursday, where he signed an executive order aimed at protecting healthcare coverage for Americans with pre-existing health conditions. The pre-existing conditions protection already exists under the Affordable Care Act, so the signing could be a first step of Trump’s towards replacing it.

  • Tillis vs. Cunningham, Round 2: (WGHP, News & Observer) Republican Sen. Tom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham met for their second debate in two weeks. The candidates argued over replacing the vacant Supreme Court seat after the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and coronavirus efforts. Both admitted to smoking marijuana in their youth.

Education

  • Other districts take faster back-to-school approach: (Ledger 🔒) It turns out Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools may be one of the last local school districts to bring students back to the classroom in-person. Over the past week, many neighboring school districts released their own timetables for reopening.

  • CMS enrollment down:(Ledger 🔒) CMS experienced a record-high drop in enrollment when it reported its figures after the 20th day of classes.

Local News

  • Large venues to open back up: (WBTV) Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that large outdoor venues in North Carolina (10,000+ people) can reopen at 7% capacity starting Oct. 2. This includes Bank of America Stadium, where the Panthers play on Oct. 4.

  • No charges for CMPD officers: (WCNC) The Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office declared there was not enough evidence to criminally charge four Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department officers and one sergeant over the death of Harold Easter. In January, Easter suffered a seizure while in police custody and died. The five were cited for termination by Chief Johnny Jennings, who said they neglected to provide Easter medical attention.

  • Peaceful protests in Charlotte after Taylor ruling: (WBTV) More than 100 residents took to the streets in uptown Charlotte on Wednesday, marching and chanting as part of a nationwide resurgence of protests after a Kentucky grand jury did not indict Louisville police officers involved in the death of Breonna Taylor (one officer was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment because of proximity to neighboring residents). CMPD said there were no injuries, assaults or arrests made during the protests.

Business

  • Hospitals returning to normal: (Ledger) Charlotte’s two major hospital systems, Atrium Health and Novant Health, are seeing a return to regular numbers of patients, as Covid hospitalizations decline and non-Covid patients have returned.

  • Fashion industry works to recover from Covid: (Ledger 🔒) Local women’s fashion retailers like Scout & Molly’s are attempting to adjust after months of being closed and far less interest from shoppers than usual right before fall. With many office workers staying home, retailers are trying to adapt to the new trend toward casual clothing, and some customers have less time to shop with children home from school.

  • 🎥 Flyover Friday season finale: (Ledger) This week, it was Cristina Bolling’s turn to partner with The 5 and 2 Project and helm the drone controls to explore UNC Charlotte, and she did … a passable job at it. UNCC has seen a recent surge in enrollment and development, and we captured it all from the air.

Sports

  • Panthers’ McCaffrey injured: (ESPN) Carolina Panthers star running back Christian McCaffrey suffered a high ankle sprain Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and will be out four to six weeks. Was it the dreaded GQ curse?

  • Jordan starts NASCAR team: (Observer) Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan is partnering with NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin to start a single-car racing team for the 2021 cup season. The team will be headlined by top circuit driver Bubba Wallace.

  • Charlotte FC sees strong season ticket numbers: (WFAE) Charlotte MLS team President Tom Glick said the club has seen more than 30,000 season ticket reservations, despite the team still being almost a year and a half away from taking the field. Glick also discussed long-term plans for new headquarters for both the Panthers and Charlotte FC.

Election central: voter guides and other info

Good reads

  • The diary of a Covid-19 nurse: (Novant Health) Diane Tejada of Presbyerian Medical Center offers a look behind the scenes at what a day-to-day shift is like for a nurse working in the critical care unit during a pandemic. A sampling: “One patient that comes to mind is a pregnant mom of three who was just 24 weeks along and was diagnosed with Covid. Unfortunately, she ended up getting intubated and they had to deliver her baby early because the mom was so sick. She only spoke Spanish and you could see the fear all over her eyes.”

  • How an artist makes a living: (Agenda) Artist Kyle Mosher has painted many murals on the streets and building-sides of Charlotte, though not many people realize this. As author Katie Peralta put it, “Even if you don’t know (his) name, you’ve probably seen his artwork.” The 34-year old doesn’t seek a spotlight, just a quiet way to make a living off of his work.

Other Ledger Originals 

  • IHOPs stay closed: (Monday) Charlotte residents craving that delicious 24/7 diner food will have to look elsewhere for the time being, as most local IHOP restaurants have yet to reopen. The issues stem from larger corporate difficulties.

  • Spending is back up: (Wednesday 🔒) Business and consumer spending levels have recovered to pre-pandemic levels, according to new figures released by the N.C. Department of Revenue.

  • Arrows in Ballantyne cause headaches: (Monday), (Wednesday 🔒) Ballantyne residents were in quite the kerfuffle after mail and packages kept getting delivered to the wrong addresses. The homeowners association took it upon themselves to create and set up its own, shall we say, “visual” solution — but not everyone was pleased.

  • Update on new south Charlotte high school: (Friday 🔒) A developer laid out preliminary plans for a new high school and an adjacent project. The 2,500-seat high school is designed to relieve Ardrey Kell, Myers Park and South Meck, the three largest high schools in the state.

—David Griffith


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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Reporting intern: David Griffith