When COVID-19 forced schools to halt in-person classes in mid-March, youngsters in turn were forced to spend an inordinate amount of time at home.
Then came Camp St. Clair.
“Almost every single day,” camp director Amanda Sekanic said, “we have a parent at drop-off or pickup who says, ‘Thank you so much for all you’re doing.’”
For seven weeks, wrapping up Aug. 7, the program at Boyce Mayview Park in Upper St. Clair is providing youngsters with opportunities to participate in a variety of educational, artistic and athletic activities, much to the relief of everyone who endured the most difficult stretches of coronavirus-related restrictions.
“They hadn’t seen each other since school shut down, so they’re just so excited to see their friends again,” Sekanic said about the campers, who have completed first through seventh grades. “They didn’t think they were going to see their friends this summer.”
Camp is offered through Upper St. Clair Recreation and Leisure Services, for which Sekanic serves as assistant community programs coordinator. She said the decision to proceed for 2020 came in late May, with a change in location from the usual Baker Elementary School.
“We have all of this space to be able to do it safely,” Sekanic said, with the expanse of Boyce Mayview Park featuring plenty of pavilions and athletic fields – that includes Sean Casey’s Miracle League of the South Hills facility – plus an outdoor Learning Lab and a system of trails by which campers can explore nature.
Along with Upper St. Clair students, attending the program are youngsters from other nearby communities.
“They’re all fitting in and making new friends, and it’s really setting the stage for growth,” Sekanic said. “Now that we have established ourselves in the park, it will be here every summer. We’re definitely excited to see what we can do whenever we’ve emerged safely on the other side of this.”
Joining her in making sure everything goes smoothly are 18 counselors.
“As far as staffing, I use counselors who had been at camp before,” she said. “So parents were familiar with faces. They knew that their kids were coming to a safe place with recognizable people.”
To promote safety, the number of participants has been limited. Staff members wear masks, and water bottles are readily available to keep everyone hydrated.
“On days when it’s super-hot, we usually play some water games,” Sekanic said, and that helps compensate for this summer’s abnormal weather, especially for Pittsburgh. “We’ve only had two days where it’s actually rained, two days out of the past five weeks.”
Such conditions are amenable to people visiting Boyce Mayview Park. Many take note of Camp St. Clair, and Sekanic said they have a message for her and her counselors.
“We are so glad that you are providing something for kids,” she said.
For more information about Upper St. Clair Recreation and Leisure Services, visit www.twpusc.org/rec-leisure/rec-leisure-home.
To help promote public participation in Mt. Lebanon Commission meetings, the municipal information technology manager has come up with a plan for online streaming.
Nick Schalles presented information during the commission’s discussion session Tuesday about implementing a system that could be in place by mid-August.
The plan is to take the video feed normally used for recording purposes and tie it in to webinar software that would allow participants to join remotely.
“It’s not going to be a huge expense, because we are reusing a lot of our equipment,” Schalles said. “So we don’t have to purchase cameras or anything like that.”
The commission had been meeting remotely since March because of restrictions and safety concerns prompted by COVID-19.
On Tuesday, municipal officials reconvened in person for the bimonthly discussion session and regular meeting, with limited attendance to help promote social distancing.
With the new system, people who plan to participate in meetings remotely must sign up, as opposed to simply watching a live-streamed video. But the webinar format gives residents the opportunity to provide comments even if they are not attending in person.
At the July 14 discussion session, which was conducted via webinar, Craig Grella, commission president, addressed the potential number of comments increasing exponentially with the capability of doing so remotely.
“It’s easier to do it online or even over the phone than it is to come in person,” he said. “I really like the idea of making our meetings more accessible and easier for people to interact with. But I recognize there will be issues.”
Solicitor Philip Weis agreed.
“You would have a much more likely possibility of that happening the more you allow citizen comments to be given and received through something like we’re doing now,” he said.
The commission can set parameters that comply with the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, which requires governmental agencies to deliberate and take official action on business in an open meeting that has a public participation component.
“Agencies must provide a reasonable opportunity for residents and/or taxpayers to comment on an issue before a decision takes place. Agencies are permitted to establish rules to oversee public comment by, for example, limiting the time for each commenter,” according to the state Office of Open Records.
Also July 14, Commissioner Leeann Foster asked about the possibility of implementing a webinar-type participation system for municipal advisory panels. She gave the example of the Community Relations Board, which conducts a substantial amount of outreach to residents.
“I think we need to get this issue tackled,” she said about commission meetings, “but then maybe think about what’s the best platform for us to use to facilitate conversation on issues that are important to our citizens right now. And that can be, quite frankly, kind of tough conversations, but necessary for us to continue to move forward. We can’t just say, ‘Well, because of COVID, we’re not able to meet.’”
Schalles said the municipality has the applicable technology, and it can be implemented eventually.
“Right now, we’re just shooting for the commission,” he said. “We can do something, but we’re going to have to work out logistics.”
With students scheduled to start the Peters Township School District academic year Aug. 24, officials have some key decisions to make with regard to the opening.
On Monday, the school board plans to vote on adopting a state-mandated Health and Safety Plan for precautions against the spread of COVID-19, plus board members will determine the conditions by which students and staff members return.
The district has established a set of conditions – green, yellow and red – based to some degree on Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan for reopening from the coronavirus shutdown. “Green” calls for students to attend school five days a week in the classroom, and “yellow” provides for a hybrid approach blending in-class and remote learning.
Under all three conditions, students can opt for fully remote learning, and in the case of “red,” everyone would learn remotely.
During a special board meeting July 27, some members said they favor starting the year “green,” while others expressed interest in “yellow.” Among the former was Thomas McMurray, board president.
“Let’s be the leader and try to get going,” he said. “We may have to modify it, but at least Peters Township should be the leader and say, we can try to get some kind of ‘normal’ going here. We’re going to get the best education for our kids.”
Lisa Anderson, who chairs the board’s policy committee, recommended the district perhaps “open at ‘yellow’ with the idea that we’d like to transition to ‘green’” to help lessen the chance of COVID-19 transmission.
Board members participated in a discussion built around Superintendent Jeannine French’s presentation on the draft health and safety plan, the final version of which must be filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
“Everything that we’re doing is not going to be in here,” she cautioned. “This is a high-level compliance document that the board will set into policy.”
A major consideration for school officials is the ability to adapt.
“Our staff has been hard at work recognizing that the conditions may change,” the superintendent said. “We just have to be flexible. We have to monitor and adjust.”
How the district proceeds will be based primarily on guidance as it evolves from various agencies, including the state Department of Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
French said, though, the district’s color-coded conditions would not necessarily correspond with what is designated by the state at any given time.
“This plan is only loosely tied to those phases,” she said. “We have to take into account conditions, more local conditions. We’ve already been told by the secretary of health and the governor’s office that they’re not going to be as nimble in terms of changing the phases.”
She addressed a variety of considerations within the 23-page health and safety plan, from optimizing conditions on buses and in classrooms to encouraging students who feel ill not to attend school.
“We are going to ask parents to screen at home. Kids can act sniffly and sick all the time, so it’s this tension between: Do we send kids in and risk having a lot of infection spread? The downside is that we don’t want kids to miss a whole lot of school,” French said. “We will ask parents to err on the side of caution, because we’re relaxing our attendance requirement.”
Students at home can study using Canvas, the district’s new learning management system.
“If you’re not in remote,” French said about those learning at home full-time, “doing your work in Canvas just because you’re sick is not a long-term solution. But it will allow you to keep up with your work.”
For students and staff members who enter district facilities, including buses, protective masks are required. Exceptions will be made, though, for students who have documented conditions that make wearing them prohibitive.
The health and safety plan calls for periodic “mask breaks,” during which students must maintain a distance of at least six feet from one another.
Regardless of what board members decide Monday about the condition under which the school year opens, it is subject to modification.
“The resolution is going to give Dr. French the ability to adjust, even if the week before school starts the situation has changed,” solicitor Jocelyn Kramer said.
To wrap up the July 27 discussion, the superintendent encouraged continued dialogue among all the district’s stakeholders.
“We’re all in this together,” she said. “If we want to keep our schools open and safe, we have to communicate.”