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The Mint Turns Enrichment Camp During COVID
Tuesday, September 15, 2020


Restaurant booths have taken the place of school desks. A patio once reserved for a beer garden now serves as a reading nook.

The Mint in downtown Hailey is now ground zero for one of two Wood River Community YMCA Enrichment Camps designed to support elementary school children with online learning and other enrichment activities during the COVID pandemic.

So far, 144 students are taking part in camps at The Mint and at the YMCA in Ketchum while the Blaine County School District has students attend in-person classes two days a week and engage in online learning the remaining three days.

Molly Boomer’s two children are among those attending the Y program on the days they aren’t in school.

“They’re having an absolute blast,” she said. “They and the other kids are so happy to be here. They see their friends and they love the structured environment that this is providing them. All kids have better socio-emotional control when they have structure.”

Boomer is among a handful of parents who have joined forces with Y summer camp counselors and Power Scholars instructors to work with the children from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Under the instruction of Teressa Johnson, who spent up to 70 hours a week putting the program together, she helps the children navigate the online instruction their teachers provide, do their homework, play in the park and create arts projects.

On Monday, for instance, Boomer read the story of a caterpillar that blossomed into a beautiful butterfly as the children made caterpillars out of colored construction paper. She also showed children how to build houses out of toothpicks and then take turns playing the Big Bad Wolf as they tried to blow each house down for an engineering project dealing with wind.

“The community needs help. I’m just a helper,” Boomer said. “We’re teaching them resilience. It’s tough going to a new place every day.”

In fact, one of the exercises on tap teaches the children that resilience is their superpower in the age of COVID-19.

Using material from Clinical Psychologist Dr. Janina Scarlett, the student is challenged to look at the not-so-fun parts of the pandemic experience by picking a hero name and assigning special abilities to themselves. They’re then asked to describe the monster they’re facing, whether anxiety or depression, list that monster’s weaknesses and come up with ways to face that monster.

Jason Shearer, the Y’s executive director, spent months searching for a place to hold the camp in mid-valley. The Mint fit the bill, he said, with an upstairs where children can put on plays or play on a snowy day should the Blaine County School District continue its hybrid option into winter.

Shearer said he continues to look for spaces for other camps should the demand be there.

“No one can take the place of the teachers, but we can support parents who can’t be there to support their children’s online schooling because they have to work,” he said.

Shearer noted that once the kids finish their schoolwork, the focus is on reading.

“Education really matters. We talk about kids at risk. At this point, that’s everyone. It’s important to learn to read by third grade. If they can’t read at grade level, they’re not likely to graduate from high school,” he said.

The Y had a bit of a head start since it provided care for children of essential workers in May while local schools were completely online. Its summer camps and Power Scholars program navigated the summer without a reported case of COVID.

“We figured out quickly that masks are critical,” Shearer said. “And the kids are way better than their parents with wearing masks. Adults are always messing with theirs while the kids seem to have adapted to them well.”

Every Y is trying to figure out how to fill the gaps for their specific communities. As one of a handful of Ys that offers the Power Scholars program to help kids who would otherwise fall behind, this Y is focused on literacy, Shearer said.

“People fail to appreciate how grateful the students are,” said Shearer. “School might have been a drag for these students seven months ago but not now. And I’ve never heard such an outpouring of appreciation from parents. People say, ‘We really need this.’ We’ve even seen a few tears.”

Boomer said one of her favorite moments from the first week was when she and her co-workers paraded 36 children out the door past Shorty’s Diner on the way to Hop Porter Park.

“Everyone was enjoying their coffee and everyone was smiling. They were happy to see kids back at school.”

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