We know camp experiences make a critical difference for children summer after summer. Research has affirmed that high-quality camp experiences are vital educational opportunities for children to engage in social and emotional learning and develop and strengthen critical skills and dispositions that help young people thrive in school and in their early careers. The American Camp Association (ACA) has worked for decades to ensure that summer camp programs become more recognized and equitably funded as developmentally vital learning and enrichment experiences for every child.

Last week, for the very first time, the US Department of Education invited the American Camp Association to participate alongside the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Governors Association, the National Summer Learning Association, and other national partners in the launch of the National Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative to help students most impacted by the pandemic have access to essential summer learning experiences like summer camp. ACA and other national partners of the Collaborative met to work together to expand access to evidence-based summer programs that address the lost instructional, social, and extracurricular time young people have experienced as a result of the pandemic, especially underserved students and those disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“Too many students have experienced disruptions in learning and negative effects on their social and emotional wellbeing due to time apart from friends and community,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “Summer presents a key opportunity for school districts and community partners to accelerate learning and provide new avenues for students to safely engage with each other in fun activities. Let’s use this moment to reimagine what fun, engaging summer programming can look like, make it accessible to students, and work together to make sure our communities recover and rebuild stronger than they were before the pandemic.”

The American Recovery Plan Act provides considerable funding over the next few years for evidence-based initiatives, including summer programs, to address the impact of the academic, social, and emotional disruptions of this past year. This is an important opportunity for creation and expansion of state- and district-level partnerships between camps and schools. The Collaborative aims to take a national approach to defining and identifying best practices in summer learning experiences and rapidly setting up fun, innovative, and engaging summer opportunities for students. It will also facilitate regional- and local-level partnerships to ensure speedy and robust implementation of state- and district-level plans.

On your behalf, ACA is working hard to advocate for children and youth by elevating camp as a vital and enriching developmental and educational experience while advancing the reach and relevance of camp by expanding equitable access to camp and growing the camp community through diversity and inclusion. In the midst of this pandemic, we are at an exciting crossroads for the future of the camp field. Please reach out to your state and local school district to explore opportunities for collaboration, supported by this new funding.