Partnering for a Summer at Home: Camp TV, Public Media, and Out-of-School Enrichment
August 24, 2020
The following post is part of a series springing from the Cooney Center’s joint initiative with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, By/With/For Youth: Inspiring Next Gen Public Media Audiences. This is a project aimed at exploring the role of public media in the lives of young people by taking stock of the current landscape and imagining a future that public media can build alongside teens and tweens. With that in mind, we are inviting public media practitioners who are already experimenting and exploring with young audiences to reflect on their experiences and share their perspectives. We hope these posts will spark conversation, provide direction and resources, and raise up examples of the innovative work that public media stations across the country are creating to engage the next generation.
At WNET, we are driven to address the needs of our community in ways that are innovative, flexible, nimble, and responsive. Following months of school closures and continuing COVID-19 restrictions, children nationwide are facing a summer without their usual activities, which for many includes summer camp. The research on summer learning is largely a confirmation of what we intuitively know—high-quality summer learning opportunities can support and improve a young person’s social, academic, physical, and emotional development. Research on summer learning indicates that youth who lack access to enriching summer experiences, particularly those from traditionally underserved communities, experience not just slowed development, but an actual decline in skills over the summer months.
That’s why we created Camp TV, a new public television series that brings some of the magic, learning, and fun of the day camp experience to elementary-age children sheltering at home. Camp TV is hosted by Zach, a head counselor played by the Broadway performer Zachary Noah Piser (from Dear Evan Hansen and Wicked) who guides campers, ages 5-10, as they learn through play. It was important for us to cast a funny and relatable “camp counselor” who leads “campers” through a variety of surprising activities. Zach kicks off each episode with a welcome song and announces the day’s theme: silly hat day, camping day, rhyme day, silly sock day, backwards day, and more. He then guides viewers through a variety of activities—exploring nature, math, science, the arts, movement, storytelling, writing, and more. For example, kids will learn about surface tension while making bouncing bubbles and discover shapes while creating a flying origami star. We also feature zookeepers introducing all kinds of animals—from a playful bearcat to chickens who like classical music. Children will learn how to do magic tricks, turn sneakers into tap shoes, create an oboe from a straw, and make guacamole.
The Camp TV activities are led by a diverse and talented group of performers, teaching artists, scientists, and educators who encourage kids to use simple items from around their homes to conduct the activities. Every episode also includes a book-of-the-day storytelling segment read by librarians and authors.
Our team was able to ramp up quickly to produce Camp TV because of the content partnerships we formed. In May 2020, our team began contacting organizations in the NYC area and beyond to assess interest in being part of this initiative. In order to make sure we were covering a wide range of topics, we reached out to a variety of educational organizations. Some were organizations with which WNET had partnered in the past, while others were new to WNET. When our team mentioned our goal of providing engaging, educational content to families who might not otherwise have access to quality summer programs, organizations were eager to participate. Some partners, such as the New Victory Theater had already created a robust suite of videos that were well-suited for the program, while others like the Liberty Science Center were able to create a series of videos specifically for the program. Most of the organizations were in the process of grappling with how to best provide their content to families over the summer months and Camp TV gave them a platform to help them achieve that goal, as well as to introduce their organization and content to new audiences. We are now working with more than 22 museums, zoos, nature centers, botanical gardens, arts organizations, and more who share our mission to provide children with an enriching—albeit different—summer learning experience. Since the launch of Camp TV, additional organizations have contacted us and expressed an interest in participating in future iterations of the program.
Sandra Sheppard is Director & Executive Producer of Children’s and Educational Media at WNET. She is an Emmy award-winning producer and media executive with over 20 years of public television experience. She oversees content development and production of children’s broadcast and digital initiatives at WNET, New York Public Media. Sandra serves as the executive producer of Cyberchase, the Emmy Award-winning animated “math adventure” that airs daily on PBS KIDS. She oversees production, online and mobile content, educational outreach, and research. Sandra has developed several original properties including Oh Noah!, a whimsical PBS KIDS video and gaming series that introduces young children to Spanish, and Mission US, a role-playing game for tweens.