Every April, David Scarpetti goes to work, creating a complicated chart of Google calendars to determine what his 9-year-old daughter Frankie will do during the 10 weeks when she is not in school. This process lasts a week, as Frankie and her father go back and forth determining, in one-week increments, how she will spend her summer. Scarpetti and his wife, Trish Van Zandt, both work full time jobs - he is an analyst at a research organization and she is a psychology professor at Ohio State. For them, Columbus' camps are daycare for Frankie.
Scarpetti is methodical about the process.
"There are a critical 10 weeks of summer, as far as scheduling goes," Scarpetti said. "School stops, you get a few days and then there's 10 weeks. The whole mania starts around April 1. That's when we start signing up."
While Columbus offers dozens of secular day camps each summer, Frankie's options are limited. Many of the city's most interesting and engaging summer camps do not have hours that mesh well for families with two working parents. Too many camps start late in the morning or end before Scarpetti leaves work. Camps with longer hours or wrap-around childcare services receive higher priority for the family.
Scarpetti and Van Zandt choose camps over hiring a babysitter because they want their daughter to be active and learn throughout the summer.
"A single sitter can't engage kids in the way that a camp can," explained Scarpetti.
Through Columbus' summer camps, Frankie has been able to see a military helicopter land in Antrim Park, create puppets for a play that she helped write at the Columbus Museum of Art, and take a stab at cheerleading through Ohio State University's Camp Recky (for the record, she did not like cheerleading).
"If you want her to sit and read all day, or watch TV, that's fine," added Van Zandt. "Some sitters are better than that. But there are no helicopters with sitters."
A few camps receive high praise from this three-person panel. First up is OSU's Camp Recky. This one is open to anyone employed by or enrolled at OSU or who has a Recreation & Physical Activity Center (RPAC) membership there. Camp Recky earns honors not only for offering extended child care from 7:30 to 9 a.m. and from 4 to 5:30 p.m. for no additional cost, but it is also the only camp that offers a lunch for the kids.
"And the lunches are amazing," said Scarpetti, the lunch-packer of the family. "Getting a kid lunch for camp is a big deal. It sounds ridiculous, but they don't take the lunch that you've made them all year long. They get this different lunch. And they'll probably eat it because it comes from a different source - not you. And Camp Recky has a really nice lunch. I'd really be thrilled to have it myself."
COSI is another institution that offers flexible hours for their summer camp program. The center offers wrap-around care (for $15 a day) between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
"The kids hang out and do an activity in the atrium until the camp starts at 9 (a.m.)," said COSI spokeswoman Jaclyn Reynolds. "We've been offering (the service) for quite some time. We usually have somewhere in the neighborhood of five to 10 kids who utilize it. If we have two or three different camps happening that week, that ups the number of kids."
According to Reynolds, COSI strives to be as accessible as possible for its families. Not only do they use feedback from the surveys sent to parents the Monday after camp is over, but they also seek input through their Center for Research to determine the topics that families would like to see in their camps.
For the Scarpetti-Van Zandt family, having a chance to give feedback is important. They once pulled Frankie out of a camp before it ended because of previously unannounced half-days on Fridays. The couple made sure they communicated to the staff why their daughter would not return.
And in turn, that communication inspires change. When asked about the mid-day hours for their past summer classes, The Wexner Center began re-evaluating their hours, as well as all other aspects of their program. The Wex, whose programs are suspended until their new facility opens, hope to re-launch their summer programming in 2015 - with extended hours.
"We've certainly been aware of this issue for many years," said Shelley Casto, the Wexner's director of education, "and it will be part of our thinking as we reframe the program."