Local camps balance safety and fun

Local camps balance safety and fun

Local camps focus on safety

Campers at Camp Veritans with Carla Rudow, camp director (back row, second from left) hold up their arms to display color-coded wristbands that identify their swim levels. Josh Isackson

Local day-camp directors interviewed this week stressed that at their camps, safety is the top priority. Most are accredited by the American Camp Association, whose safety standards, according to all camp directors interviewed, exceed state requirements. The state accepts ACA certification in lieu of state inspection.

“The state is confident enough in us that if a camp is ACA accredited it doesn’t need a full state inspection,” said Adam Weinstein, executive director of the ACA, New York and New Jersey.

All the camps featured meet or exceed state standards. And all camp directors interviewed stressed that their camps employ CPR-certified lifeguards and medical personnel.

Some directors noted, however, it is impossible to completely eliminate risk, especially for active children. While accidents will occur, “it’s how you respond to them” that matters most, in the words of one director.

A low ratio of campers to counselors is considered especially desirable by parents looking for camps that stress safety, and for good reason, according to Jill Tipograph, founder and director of Everything Summer LLC, a Westwood-based company specializing in matching youngsters with camps and summer programs.

“The more staff you have, the more eyes you have on the kids,” said Tipograph.

Low camper-to-counselor ratio, especially around pools, is a hallmark of programming at the Neil Klatskin Day Camp at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, according to Stacy Budkofsky, its director.

The camp, which serves children ages 3 to 7 in Tenafly and campers ages 8 to 11 at the Henry Kaufmann Camp Ground in Pearl River, N.Y., is accredited by the ACA.

All campers are tested to determine their level of proficiency in the water. Only strong swimmers are allowed in the main pool, which goes to 10 feet, and no camper is ever unsupervised in or near any of the pools, according to Budkofsky.

More than one lifeguard is always present at every pool when kids are swimming, she said.

“We have ample coverage – more than required by the state and department of health in terms of ratios,” Budkofsky added.

“Lifeguards blow their whistles and all the campers swim to the side” to be counted after entering a pool, at various intervals, and before getting out, she said.

In addition, the camp boasts a water park with amusements like slides and sprinklers. A lifeguard stands between the “zero depth” water park, which opens to JCC members at 1 p.m., and the deep pool, even when no one is swimming, according to Budkofsky.

“Just in case a child would run from the park into the pool, there is always a lifeguard,” she said. In addition, counselors stand around the pool while their campers are in the water.

“They are an extra set of eyes,” she said.

For instructional swim there are no more than eight to nine children for every two instructors, according to Budkofsky. Free swim ratios are similar.

Safety is also stressed on the “challenge course,” a ropes and obstacles course in the woods that includes a “zip line” enabling campers to slide down ropes while suspended from harnesses, wearing helmets.

The course is inspected at the beginning of the season by a company that checks and tests all ropes and equipment. Camp staffers “check it visually” before they use it, said Budkofsky.

The playground equipment is checked once a week to ensure it is sturdy and nothing is broken. When campers are on the equipment, counselors stand at specific places and “do not congregate” so they can properly supervise campers, and woodchips provide a soft surface in case a camper falls.

Other area camp directors highlighted their safety standards as well.

Camp Veritans, located in Haledon and affiliated with the YM-YWHA of North Jersey (and literally right up the road from that facility) is ACA-accredited. Upon arriving, visitors encounter a security guard “who announces everybody,” according to Carla Rudow, camp director. She added that “safety first, then fun,” is the camp’s motto. The camp serves kids entering kindergarten through 10th grade.

Campers are tested for proficiency in swimming on the first day, placed into color-coded groups based on their abilities, and given color-coded wristbands that they wear all summer, corresponding to the deepest section of the pool in which they are permitted to swim. Those banded red, the color signifying the deep end, “can go anywhere,” while kids who have other color wristbands can go only as deep as their levels, Rudow explained. Campers can advance to higher levels.

All senior staff members are CPR-certified and there are no more than 30 campers to one lifeguard in the pool at any time. During free swim, at least seven lifeguards watch 120 kids, making the ratio 17 campers to one lifeguard.

The camp employs the “buddy check” system during free swim. “You are supposed to find your buddy when the whistle blows,” Rudow explained.

The camp boasts a “progression-building ropes and challenge course” that enables campers, secured by a harness and ropes, to slide down a “zip line” and climb to platforms that are attached to trees. Monday afternoon, Frank Lincoln, director of the ropes and challenge course, was being re-certified in “level two rescue” by Scott Eaton, a programmer and ropes instructor for Indian Mountain Adventure, based in Lakeville Conn., as well as a former U.S. Marine.

“If anyone got stuck on a zip line, I’m teaching these guys to perform a rescue,” Eaton told this reporter, while Lincoln looked down from a platform about 50 feet in the air.

Inspection of harnesses, ropes, platforms, and the “entire course” takes place each year before camp starts, according to Rudow.

Camp Veritans also boasts two registered nurses, “water stations throughout camp,” and an open policy regarding parent visits.

“We like our families to drop in and see us in action,” said Rudow. “We have nothing to hide, so visiting day is any day.”

Campers entering eighth and ninth grade go on a whitewater rapids excursion.

“We do not allow them to go unless they have certified instructors with them and they wear life jackets,” said Rudow. “It’s not class-one rapids, though believe me they would love that if we let them. It’s more of a floating down the river, very, very mild.”

This rafting trip is coordinated by Whitewater Challengers in Weatherly, Pa.

Sam Borek, director of Woodmont Day Camp in New City, N.Y., which is affiliated with the Bergen YJCC in Washington Township (and which is located about 20 minutes away from that facility) says that the camp, which serves ages 3 to 15, prides itself on its low camper-to-counselor ratio.

“It’s roughly the age you are, to one,” he said. “It’s five to one for [children] younger than 7, and for 8-year-olds and up, it’s seven or eight to one,” he said.

In and around the pool, there are “always lifeguards watching, as well as lifeguards in the pool” during both instruction and free swim. The ratio of campers to counselors in the pool is no more than five to one, and counselors stand at posts around the pool when their groups are swimming, to supplement the supervision of instructors and lifeguards.

In the pool, there is a buddy system, with each camper responsible for locating his or her “buddy” when they enter, at intervals, and when they prepare to leave.

The camp has a guard at its entrance during the day and is ACA accredited. It employs a registered nurse as well as a nursing graduate student.

“Kids are playing sports and active, so you can’t prevent all injuries, it’s just how you respond to them” that matters, said Borek.

The camp takes kids entering eighth and ninth grades on whitewater rafting trips, Borek said, but it is more “lazy paddling” than riding rough rapids. Whitewater Challengers supervises these trips.

Sarit Perry, director of Camp Kef at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus also stresses the high teacher-to-camper ratio at her camp, which serves children ages 3 to 8.

“We have a one-to-six staff to camper ratio, so all campers are supervised constantly,” she said.

While the camp is not accredited by the ACA, Perry said it is “fully state licensed and insured.”

The front door is locked and the school has a video camera and intercom system. “No one enters the building unless we see their face and recognize them and know they have legitimate reason” to be entering, she said.

All head teachers are certified in CPR and first aid, and the school employs an emergency medical technician who works evenings on an ambulance.

Every camp group is composed of 16 to 18 children, one teacher, and two assistants.

“It’s not just high school and college students, but also adult teachers with every group, and that adds in ensuring kids are properly supervised,” Perry said.

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