When school is out for the summer, hundreds of kids take to the fields in Bayonne.
The Bayonne Department of Recreation, led by its director, Pete Amadeo, organizes five camps across the city where outdoor play and fun activities take the place of the 10-month school grind.
The center of the program, called the “Ultimate Sports Camp,” is held at Veterans Stadium behind Bayonne High School every weekday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The program is in its fourth season and seems to grow every year. Music blasts from the speakers and a goofy camp counselor stationed in the announcing booth at the top of the bleachers acts as the camp’s play-by-play announcer while kids play wiffle ball, baseball, soccer, tag, and physical activities of all kinds.
“Keep calm and tumble on,” he announces over a Selena Gomez song. “Selena is older than my wife. She is 26.”
“Part of our mission is to meet the needs of the community,” said Amadeo. “Parents who work during the summer rely on us. They want their kids to have fun. We want the kids to enjoy themselves and learn in a fun atmosphere.”
The big picture
The Bayonne school district has more than 7,000 middle-school students. The summer camp programs for kids 6-14 serve about one-tenth of Bayonne youth. Across the country, about 10 million children participate in a range of school-age programs, before- and after-school and during summers and school breaks, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.
Summer camp is more important now than ever for two reasons: the need for childcare while parents work, and structured physical activity in a culture with technological distractions that can glue kids to the couch.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 63 percent of U.S. families with children have two working parents. Meanwhile, vacations for private-sector employees average 15 days in the United States, far less than the vacations of their children.
A survey conducted by bankrate.com released in June showed 33 percent of respondents went into credit card debt to pay for childcare over the summer, averaging about $1,000 for a summer. Bayonne’s summer programs, meanwhile, cost $210 per child and $140 for every subsequent child from the same family. Those costs do not include lunch or the childcare needed before 9 a.m. and after 3 p.m.
Parents with children under 6 years old still have to find summer accommodations for their children during work hours. Since the Ultimate Sports Camp inception, Bayonne has expanded its all-day pre-k program to about 600 kids, thanks to a grant from the New Jersey Department of Education. The push for childcare is part of a larger movement for universal pre-k and childcare for all American families and is a major issue in the 2020 presidential primaries.
The affordability benchmark set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is seven percent of a family’s annual income. The summer recreation program shows how public spaces, paid with property taxes, can be leveraged to facilitate affordable childcare.
“What the Department of Recreation has done is give the working parents options for their children,” said Alyssa Marmorato, a mother of two summer camp kids, ages 6 and 14, enrolled since the program’s inception.
Marmorato also appreciates the program because kids are active and socialize. “In an age of tech, when kids would rather sit indoors and play video games, this program brings back outdoor play,” she said.
“The program connects them, brings them together, and builds friendships they might not have had,” said C.J. Cerbone, a 17-year-old camp counselor attending St. Peter’s Prep. “And sports helps them get away from their phones.”
“A lot of kids come here, and they’re shy and by the end, they have all these friends,” said Nick Brancatella, a physical education teacher at Bayonne High School who coaches summer camp kids in basketball.
“Those relationships stay with them throughout school and life. It really creates a sense of community, building around friends from different places,” said Amadeo. The program has kids from the 11 elementary and middle schools across the city. “Bayonne is a big town, but tight-knit.”
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