I love the summer vacation. It is a wonderful opportunity for me to regroup, reflect, and rejuvenate in anticipation of a new school year. It is a gift that I can get two months annually to recharge my professional batteries through professional development, systemic planning, and—of course—personal vacation time.
By this time of year, I am usually drained of the energy that I always seem to have on the first day of school. I am ready for a break and desperately in need of time away. By June, I long for a quiet school, devoid of office referrals and lunch duty, broken-down buses and broken hearts. By August, I long for the heartfelt joy I get when students and staff return. I long for the magic that I bear witness to each day as I visit classrooms and observe instruction. I long for the hugs and the smiles and the perspective-changing "aha!" moments that come from the "emotional crises" my middle school students experience each day.
I am concerned though. While I am eager to see the school year come to a close and excited for the promises that summers bring, I am not so sure that many of my students are experiencing the same level of excitement. Every year I see suspensions and referrals skyrocket in May and June. Though some of this may be due, in part, to the changing seasons and the associated spring fever, and some might come from the frustrations teachers and administrators feel after a long school year, I suspect there is more to it. For many of the students in my school, this is where they come for a consistent meal, a welcoming smile, and a healthy dose of high expectations. May and June means an end to so many things our students come to rely on us for.
It is funny. We sometimes joke about the fact that the kids we have the most problems with rarely seem to be absent from school. Why is that? Perhaps because we give them a safe place to do what other students get out of their systems at home with their parents: seek attention, rebel, challenge authority, push limits, and learn to get along.
Although there is no doubt that the summer months can be fun for many, for others summer means hunger, fear, disengagement, and regression. We work in a profession that stresses the importance of relationships, especially with young people who long for someone to care about them, and then we abruptly interrupt these relationships with a nine-week separation. We feed and nurture our students for nine months, and then we send them off to fend for themselves over the summer months. We stress the importance of consistency and guided practice and then, after getting students where we want them by June, we sabotage them with nine weeks away from instruction in July and August.
Schools cannot be everything to everyone, but there has to be a better way. Some districts have year-round schooling, but in this economy that is not a likely change for systems that don't. Others have summer camps and service-related projects to keep students active; but again, a bad economy is a great excuse not to fund these kinds of initiatives.
I am interested in hearing what schools and districts are doing to keep young people healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged during the long, hot summer months.