Jaspers Commit to Lasallian Values Amid Pandemic Through Hosting Summer Camp

by Christine Nappi, Features Editor

For Edgar Zavala, MC’s director of non-credit programs, commitment to education and community is one of the most important Lasallian values that should be present, even in the time of COVID-19. Although summer 2020 was a whirlwind of uncertainty when trying to decide whether or not undergraduate students would return to campus in the fall, Zavala and other dedicated Jaspers made sure of one thing: the Manhattan College Summer Day Camp and Youth Entrepreneurship camp would still happen. 

The Manhattan College Summer Day Camp is a full-day summer camp geared towards educating children between 6 and 12 years old on subjects such as science, technology, engineering, math and the arts. The Youth Entrepreneurship Camp is a program where students from 13 to 16 years old launch their own business and learn what it takes to be an entrepreneur. 

As summer approached, Zavala, the founder and creator of these summer camps, was determined to make sure these camps were still held, not only to assist parents but to also keep his promise of providing quality education to the children. The Manhattan College Summer Day Camp was held in-person and the Youth Entrepreneurship Camp was held virtually. However, both the in-person and virtual format proposed uncharted challenges for Zavala and camp counselors. Nonetheless, they were able to conquer these challenges and provide an educational, safe summer for campers. 

“We took advantage of everything possible that we could to make these camps fun, but also safe,” Zavala said. “We realized that all the protocols that we implemented, we were following them. We didn’t have to remind kids to wear their masks and cover their noses … everyone was doing what they needed to do.”

For its third consecutive year, the Manhattan College Summer Day Camp began on June 29 and Zavala and his team implemented numerous protocols to ensure the health and safety of all 50 campers, as well as the staff. Flyers from the CDC were spread across campus, face masks were required to be worn at all times, and Zavala hired a nurse that took temperatures of campers and counselors frequently. Zavala described how the actions they took to ensure the safety of everyone on campus influenced the ways in which campus was able to open in the fall. 

“It’s exactly the same protocols, just the same protocols you’re following right now,” Zavala said. “We developed those protocols for this summer camp … but we were worried every single day.” 

Although the team was committed to providing an in-person experience for these campers and took careful precautions, they were still nervous about having to close the camp due to an outbreak. 

Marc Carrera, a junior exercise science major, worked the Manhattan College Summer Day Camp and expressed concerns about working amid COVID-19. 

“It kind of felt like we were on thin ice the whole time because you really don’t know who was going to have it or if something came up,” Carrera said. “Every day our focus was being as safe as possible and keeping the kids as safe as possible.” 

Despite his concerns, Carrera was still committed to working at the camp and helping out others in a time of need. 

“I took the job because it was a nice challenge and I was like, you know, these kids they need somewhere to be,” Carrera said. “Parents are stuck at home working, so now these kids have to be tended to and be left in good hands and stuff like that. I was pretty excited by working with them, as well as the challenge of keeping everybody safe.” 

Carrera, along with other camp counselors, taught the children about various educational topics and made sure they were having an enjoyable time. In addition, Carrera also cleaned and sanitized classrooms and utensils to create a safe learning environment for the children. His mission was to ensure the campers got as much out of the camp as possible. 

“I just had to focus on the goal, and my co-workers as well, had to focus on the goal of staying calm and getting these kids through it and giving them what they came for ­­— a nice time and education,” Carrera said. 

Zavala is thankful for Carrera’s dedication, as well as the counselors, for stepping up and working during this time of uncertainty. Despite concerns, there was not a single case of COVID-19 in the camp’s duration, which ended on Aug. 14. 

In addition to the Manhattan College Summer Day Camp, the Youth Entrepreneurship Camp was also held this summer. However, this camp was held virtually over Google Meet. Although the Youth Entrepreneurship Camp didn’t have to worry about campers potentially contracting the virus, the virtual format proposed various challenges. This was the first year the camp was held, so not only did a lesson plan need to be developed from scratch, but the lesson plan also needed to correlate with the virtual format.

Gemma Franzetti, a sophomore business analytics major, was the lone instructor of the program and worked to develop a plan that would be compatible with the virtual format. Before running the camp, Franzetti’s only experience with virtual learning was during the spring semester of 2020 when the college closed and transitioned to a virtual format. This gave her insight on how to operate the camp, but she described that learning in the virtual format differs from teaching in the virtual format, something she had never done before. Despite the challenges, Franzetti was able to foster a beneficial learning environment for the campers. 

“We couldn’t get it perfect, but to keep [the campers] engaged I just let them work together,” Franzetti said. “It’s hard when you’re not with them but I was still able to keep them engaged by just acting like we were together, even though we were just on a computer screen … It was a very weird experience, again it was helpful with online classes but like still teaching a camp on a computer was not easy.” 

The Youth Entrepreneurship Camp was held during three weeks of July, and the three campers developed their own product with the guidance of Franzetti. At the end of the camp, they were able to present their product to a prior commissioner of small businesses for New York and take it to the marketplace.  

“The most rewarding part was when they presented at the end, I was proud of what they did,” Franzetti said. “I’m happy they actually got something and took away from it and were able to learn … I’m happy I was able to facilitate it.”

Zavala created these camps because he saw a need from the community. Not only does he want to educate the youth and give them a valuable experience, but he strives to make this camp inclusive for all by providing affordable prices for families. Through these camps, he continues to reflect the college’s Lasallian mission by creating an inclusive community and providing quality education. 

“I wanted to create a solution for them and a place for them to bring their children in the summer [thats] affordable for them,” Zavala said. “Also going back to our values in education, to start educating these children.” 

Zavala was committed to running these camps amid COVID-19 because of the college’s dedication to enriching those of the college community in the Lasallian values. As a life-long Lasallian, Zavala finds that these Lasallian values should prevail amidst the pandemic. His commitment to providing quality education is why he started these camps, and that commitment would not be halted by the virus. 

“Everywhere I go, I try to build programs, education programs, with the community, and for the community,” Zavala said. “I believe that we’re never too young or never too old to learn … I’m just trying to explore what the needs may be in the community because my role is to build education and build programs on that topic.” 

As Zavala describes, his commitment alone was not enough to run the camp successfully. If it weren’t for the multiple Jasper students who stepped up to work during this time, Zavala claims the camp may have not happened. He finds that Carrera, Franzetti and all the other counselors who worked the camp embody what it means to be a Lasallian for their commitment to providing quality education and creating an inclusive community in these unforeseeable circumstances. He noted that the Jaspers who made these camps possible are worthy of praise from the community. 

“They deserve the recognition of the rest of the community,” Zavala said. “They deserve to be called champions because without them I would not have been able to run the program as I did, and without them, families wouldn’t have been able to to get the service we provided to them and their children successfully, and run it the high-quality level that we did.”