Tuesday, January 25, 2011


By Rachel Heller | Jewish Journal of Greater LA | http://bit.ly/eKNqqT

January 25, 2011 - This summer was going to be the one — the one when Prissi Cohen’s daughter, Tillie, would finally get to enroll with a friend in a late-summer overnight session at Camp Ramah. But now Cohen’s not so sure.

If Tillie, 10, winds up going to a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) middle school in the fall, she would have to be at her desk two days before camp ends.

LAUSD officials in December adopted a new, early-start school calendar that will send students back to class this year on Aug. 15, three weeks sooner than the district’s traditional post-Labor Day start date. Schools will also let out earlier next spring, on June 1. While school board members have touted the new schedule as a way to boost students’ exam scores, parents have complained the move will put kids back in stuffy classrooms during some of Southern California’s hottest days. Another side effect is that the change may cut short summer camp and family vacation plans made before the shift was approved.

“I want to be able to give her a nice summer,” Cohen said of her daughter, a fifth-grader at Coeur d’Alene Avenue Elementary in Venice. “But LAUSD is really ruining the summer for so many families.”

At Jewish summer camps across the Southland, the news is mixed. Many camp directors said they had too little notice to change their 2011 dates, as the district made its announcement after camps had already begun enrolling children. But families aren’t out of luck — Jewish camps want parents to know they will work around the revised school schedule, so kids can still get their fill of “color wars” before they have to rejoin color guard.

When news of the early-start calendar broke, Camp Ramah sent out a letter to its returning families saying they would accommodate campers in LAUSD schools, camp director Zach Lasker said. The Ojai overnight camp, which serves grades four through 10, runs sessions June 22-July 19 and July 21-Aug. 17.

Officials will let parents pick up late-summer campers on Sunday, Aug. 14, three days before the end of the second session, Lasker said. The camp might even provide bus transportation back to Los Angeles if enough families request it.

Lasker asks only that parents not take their kids out earlier than Aug. 14 — despite the fact that it’s the day before LAUSD schools start — because the Conservative-affiliated camp doesn’t want kids to miss their last Shabbat together.

“So far, people seem to be OK with that,” Lasker said, adding that only a handful of Ramah families have called in to switch camp sessions because of the new school schedule.

It’s a similar story at Camp Alonim, held at American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin campus in Simi Valley. Alonim’s three overnight sessions run June 21-July 3, July 5-24 and July 26-Aug. 14. Its Gan Alonim day camp runs June 20-Aug. 12.

With the last overnight session set to end the day before the bell rings at LAUSD schools, Alonim director Josh Levine said he hasn’t heard much concern from families.

“We have not felt a need to re-evaluate our scheduling,” Levine said. “We haven’t seen an exodus from one session to another because of this. Most families are handling this fine. People are kind of rolling with the punches, which parents are used to doing already.”

Shifting the camp’s dates would adversely impact Alonim’s staff, which relies heavily on college students who can’t start their summer jobs earlier because they’re still finishing classes or traveling home. So Levine is allowing parents to pick up third-session kids a few days early if they need time to prepare for school.

The situation is tougher at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps — Gindling Hilltop Camp and Camp Hess Kramer — which both run overnight programs in Malibu.

Most of the two camps’ packages run through the end of July or the first weekend in August. But Camp Hess Kramer’s third session runs from Aug. 10-21, ending six days into the LAUSD school year. The popular “mini-camp” session is only 12 days, so it wouldn’t pay for families to take their kids home halfway through. And because the camp’s previous session runs a full 26 days, it might not be a viable alternative for kids who aren’t ready to be away from home that long.

“It really makes it difficult for LAUSD parents” that the district announced its changes after summer camps had already published their dates, said Doug Lynn, director of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps. Some families have switched sessions, but two so far have decided to cancel their camp plans altogether.

The LAUSD school calendar will be “a big topic on the table” when camp officials meet to discuss dates for next summer, Lynn said. Until then, he’s urging parents not to abandon the idea of camp entirely.

“If families are hesitant to go to a longer session, I hope they still keep Jewish camping in mind as a positive experience and look at other Jewish camps that might offer a better option for them,” he said.

Some day camps are able to be more flexible, as parents can choose to sign up for just a few days per week. Agoura-based Camp Kinneret, for example, allows kids to miss up to a week of their registered camp session and make up the days earlier in the summer. Kinneret, which is not a Jewish camp but serves a large Jewish population, has sessions from June 20-July 22 and July 25-Aug. 19.

The LAUSD decision hinged on students’ test scores. Under the current schedule, kids have had to wait until after winter break to take their first-semester final exams. The new calendar moves up the testing period to before the break, while lessons are still fresh. This arrangement also allows kids more time to relax during the holiday season, school board members have said.

But for some parents, the shift is one big headache.

Cohen, who relishes her own summer camp memories, is hesitant to make her daughter skip out on precious time with new friends while camp is still in session. She’s now putting off applying to camp to see if Tillie will get into a non-LAUSD school, in which case the early start date won’t matter.

Besides, she said, the new LAUSD schedule is cutting into more than just camp and vacation time — it also eliminates the period of unrushed family togetherness that has traditionally marked the end of summer.

“To take away that needed family time is really a shame,” Cohen said. “It’s something that I have from my childhood. It’s been such a nice feeling to end the summer on that note.”

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