Marc Cohen

How Do You Keep Your Students Healthy, Safe, Engaged, Supported, and Challenged During Summer Vacation?

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.

Comments (4)

Erika Buton

June 3, 2010

I agree that, “schools cannot be everything to everyone, but there has to be a better way” to help kids maintain academic skills. As an educator, and educational entrepreneur, I feel that early reading skills are one of those areas that tend to lag behind when school resumes in the fall.
Summer reading program enrollment in the local libraries seems to have slowed in recent years. Kids are ready for summer related camps and socialization activities. Many children literally leave their minds “behind” until the next school year.
In my opinion, the best way that we can guarantee kids get the brain based exercise they need over the summer months to preserve their reading and thinking skills is to get parents on board in our movement to continue learning while school is out. There needs to be more of a movement towards empowering parents with tools to model to their children the importance of exercising their brains through reading and learning even when school is out. We cannot assume all parents have the tools to do this on their own. There needs to be simple, time sensitive plans in place for parents to complete with their children during time off from school and during the school year in order to remain competitive in education or we will continue to fall in comparison to other nations around the world.

Dave LaRose

June 4, 2010

Certainly, we are in tough financial times (cutting 6.8 million from our budget last year and 5.8 or more this year) – which requires us to be more critical of every investment we make; analyzing outcomes to determine if our efforts have generated the desired “return.” Under this scrutiny, our elementary summer school has not measured up – those with “means” attending for enrichment and our higher “need” students either not attending or doing so begrudgingly and feeling “punished.”


Our model this summer will look dramatically different – and will be virtually free.  Addressing the needs of our neediest students, and providing daily support for this population through creative and innovative programming has been our focus. Our Free Summer Lunch (Federal Grant supported) program served over 8500 free lunches at two school sites last summer. We have added a third site and anticipate serving more than 12,000 free lunches this year. Consequently, we realize that “attendance” at lunch needs to be harnessed into creative learning opportunities. Thus, each site will be a Summer Success Center (Eat, Learn, Play) with multiple partners providing services for children and families around the lunch hour. Each site will have physical activities and games outside, reading centers and stories during lunch, board games for check out, classes and resources for parents, free dental services, music and art activities and hands-on learning from our Career and Tech Ed program. Each site will have a different calendar of activities and all will be provided by our various partners, which include: Boys and Girls Club, Kitsap County Library, Kitsap Juvenile Center, Boys Scouts of America, Just for Kicks Dance, Master Gardeners, Local athletic clubs and our own HS sports teams; local faith based organizations, our local Food Bank (providing meals for adults as well), local medical providers, a local Golf Course offering 3 free clinics), etc. In addition, our Back Packs for Kids program (provides 300 kids each Friday with food for the weekend) will continue at these sites. We anticipate our county services to partner with us and be available to offer family/adult resources (our own Director of Food and Nutrition Services will be offering a “Cooking on a Budget” class).

Our community has rallied around the concept as we will be dependent upon volunteers and donations (books, board games, arts and crafts supplies) to enhance this 90 minutes into creative, engaging learning opportunities.

While our traditional summer school typically served approximately 250 students for 16 days, our Summer Lunch Camps will run Monday - Friday for 9 weeks. We anticipate saving over $20,000.00 compared to our previous model and will be able to redirect funds to more immediate support and intervention in the fall.

We are excited about this innovative, community engaging, shared commitment to serving our children. This is a by-product of our work around Whole Child, Whole Community. Our recently drafted “community compact” (we call it our Declaration of Interdependence) is simple - “All Kids are Capable of Success, Without Exception. A successful child is whole - safe, supported, challenged, engaged, healthy and hopeful. Success for all takes us All.” Our summer program is a tangible example of this compact in action.

Bruce Schwartz

June 7, 2010

First, thank you for writing this blog post. It is quite coincidental that I recently had this discussion with some friends.  None of us are currently teaching, though I hope to be in the fall…when we start a “new” year.

Yes, it is essential for all to take time to rejuvenate and reflect - we come back stronger both mentally and physically.  But, I think that where we have wronged ourselves is that we have always looked at school in finite terms - school years with a beginning and an end - rather than as an infinite and ongoing process.  We separate “schooling” from “learning”.  “Schooling” lasts for 9-10 months of the year and then it is done until it starts all over again.  “Learning” is more consistent and routine.

The way that school is set up is that students start one grade, that grade ends, and then another begins.  Then, high school ends, college begins, and then eventually ends.  We have conditioned ourselves to think this way.  Students’ and parents’ brains are programmed this way.  It is no wonder it is a struggle to get our students to continue the learning process during the summer months.  It is no wonder why many parents do not work with their children during the summer months to instill and reinforce the notion of continued learning. Also, consider that “summer school” has always been promoted in negative terms - mom and dad say to Junior, “if you don’t pass that class then you MUST go to SUMMER SCHOOL”.  What is Junior to think?  To Junior summer school and learning are synonymous…no way is Junior going to be a willing participant.

It is interesting that those in the business sector crave the summer break that we have all been programmed to anticipate for the first few years after graduating college.  However, after a bit of time that craving wanes and they then become conditioned to a week off every now and then.

You framed it perfectly when you said, “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.”  I think that somehow we need to break away from the concept of a finite school year and move toward a mindset of continued learning.  I think that we need to adjust from the rigidity of “beginning and end” school year to the “flow” of constant learning.

I know that you are looking for input on what certain schools and school districts are doing to address your concerns.  Sorry that I could not help in that area, but perhaps my comment might spark an idea.

Rasco From RIF » Children’s Literacy and Rea

July 5, 2010

[...] can be great fun for many of our children, but for too many children the summer months mean “hunger, fear, disengagement and regression.”  I was disturbed to read in the newest report from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) [...]

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