The Rochester Art Center has a new classroom rules poster up in its art camp.

Keep your cloth mask on. Keep six feet apart from your fellow students. Don’t share your art supplies with other students -- please.

The first week of Total Arts Day Camp, for students in first and second grade, began Monday.

Although it’s early days, the art center’s summer students are experiencing many of the classroom modifications that may be necessary if schools reopen in the fall.

And Amy Garretson, the education and community outreach manager for the Rochester Art Center, is optimistic about students’ adaptability.

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“They understand classroom rules -- we respect each other, we listen to our teacher, we have good museum manners, we don’t touch the art,” she said. “So far, they’ve been understanding and they’ve been following the new rules really well.”

Garretson said they’d announced the camp in February for the following June-August, and started taking registrations from parents -- about 20 students at that point.

After the art center opened back up, the staff wanted to hold the camp -- which has a long tradition and many returning students. But they weren’t sure what format it should take, Garretson said.

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She decided to ask parents what they wanted in a survey, which was sent out to the registered families.

“Some questions I was interested in were ‘Do you want an all in-person camp? Would you want an online camp? A camp in a bag model?’” Garretson said. “I really was interested in feedback from the parents and what makes them feel like their child has the best camp experience.”

Parents “overwhelmingly” voted in favor of an in-person or mixed experience.

“They responded quite negatively to doing an online learning experience,” Garretson said. “One parent said, ‘Distance learning has just about pushed us over the edge.’”

Garretson said some parents who signed up in February canceled before the summer season, but 15-16 preregistered students were retained -- and the art center added a few more in the past weeks.

Seeta Shah, 7, works on a collage project during Total Arts Day Camp at the Rochester Art Center Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Seeta Shah, 7, works on a collage project during Total Arts Day Camp at the Rochester Art Center Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Obviously, modifications have been made for this summer’s campers. Each of the storytelling/art class sessions, lasting one week, has six to eight participants. Campers keep their masks on during class and socially distance.

And of course, there’s an awful lot of sanitizing before, during, and after each class, Garretson said.

Their instructor, children’s author Melissa D. Savage, is also Zooming into the classroom, with the help of a few in-person instructors who help the children and supervise. Savage, who is based in Colorado, had concerns about traveling to Minnesota in the middle of a pandemic.

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“The children are going up to the camera with their masks on, one at a time, and showing Ms. Savage what they’re working on,” Garretson said. “So she’s still able to teach from afar.”

Each student also received their own art supplies, which only they touch, Garretson said.

“It is a lot more to buy individual supplies per student,” she said. “Any teacher will tell you -- classroom packs are in bulk for a reason. So it has been a little more of a financial burden, but I felt it was so important to keep the kids safe and healthy.”

Garretson did not raise tuition fees, though, citing the costs many families have already incurred during the pandemic.

Elsa Sorenson, 6, talks with author Melissa D. Savage, who was unable to travel to Rochester because of the COVID-19 pandemic, on a video call about a collage project during Total Arts Day Camp at the Rochester Art Center Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Elsa Sorenson, 6, talks with author Melissa D. Savage, who was unable to travel to Rochester because of the COVID-19 pandemic, on a video call about a collage project during Total Arts Day Camp at the Rochester Art Center Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Enrolling in art camp

Artist Sophia Chai and her husband, Rochester Art Center board member Alexandre Maia, signed their six-year-old daughter Clarice up for the art camp in February, before the coronavirus hit the U.S. She began her classes Monday.

“I had some anxiety about it, just because the number has started going up again in Rochester and also the rest of the nation,” Chai said. “That is concerning for me. But I got some emails from the art center about the changes they have implemented.”

The smaller class sizes were particularly reassuring, Chai said, as was Rochester’s city-wide mask mandate, which provided “clear, set guidance.”

“I feel like there was some inconsistency, before,” she said. “I felt like (the mandate) would help the art center employees make sure everyone was safe.”

Chai, who has exhibited in the art center before, also knew the space as a “spacious place.”

Kjelten Wood, 7, works on a collage project during Total Arts Day Camp at the Rochester Art Center Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Kjelten Wood, 7, works on a collage project during Total Arts Day Camp at the Rochester Art Center Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Making sure Clarice understood the importance of wearing a mask and keeping a distance from her classmates has been an ongoing process, Chai said -- mainly because adults have also come to understand the importance of those things over time. But the six-year-old has learned by example.

“When the pandemic first was known, I wasn’t quite sure what I needed to do, other than wash my hands every time I go outside and keep a distance from other people,” she said. “A lot of it, Clarice has learned from how I behave -- like when we go out for a walk in the neighborhood and you see another group of people, maybe we go onto the lawn or make space for the other people so they can pass.”

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Kids are resilient, Garretson said, and they seem to be “rolling with it” in regards to the new norms.

“I think they’re happier to have the opportunity to have an art class, even if the art class does look a little different from art classes in the past,” she said.

For more information about the Total Arts Day Camps, go to rochesterartcenter.org/education/tadc.