Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Grinch Who Stole Summer

I can’t take credit for that title. I read it in an article written by David Von Drehle in Time Magazine. The article was called, “The Case Against Summer Vacation.” I meant to read it weeks ago, but somehow, with all the summer activities, I couldn’t find the time. So last night, I discovered it buried on my desk with all the other things that in addition to cleaning my office, I meant to accomplish during June, July and August. And now August is here and almost gone. Summer has raced by and as I notice that the swimsuits are now moving to the clearance rack at Target –all the better for someone else to buy and expose their cellulite – I am begrudgingly realizing that fall will soon be on us, the kids will be back to school, and in less than two months, I’ll start worrying about getting ready for the holidays.

So why is David Von Drehle's article suggesting we put the kibosh on summer vacation? He and the reformers he writes about are trying to do away with the traditional concept of summer vacation because they believe that during that time, children are susceptible to the “Summer Slide” in learning achievement. They argue that in those 8 to 10 weeks that kids are not in school, they suffer learning loss, which is most detrimental to the most vulnerable group of children, those from low income families who do not have access to camps or enrichment programs during the summer which can prevent that learning loss. These kids are already at risk and the summer break only worsens the condition. Drehle states that, “By ninth grade, summer learning loss could be blamed for roughly two-thirds of the achievement gap separating income groups.” For students who already struggle to overcome significant odds in order to get an education, this lack of educational enrichment can take a tremendous toll. And in a country where the divide between the haves and have nots is growing greater by the nanosecond, the implications of this are troubling.

I've always had an idyllic view of summer. As a kid, it meant sleep away camp, family car trips to visit relatives, trips to the beach. As an adult, I still relish the summertime, the longer days, the sense of peace that comes with breaking from the rush about routine of the school year. In February, my daughters and I went to a camp fair to look at all the different kinds of camps and enrichment activities they could take part in. We took brochures for one or two and then mulled over our options through the rainy L.A. winter trying to make our summer plans come into focus. This year we did a traditional outdoorsy camp a couple of days a week, supplemented by two amazing young women who babysat my kids on their off-camp days, working with them on math and reading, piano, cooking and crafts. They helped my gals do lemonade and snow cone stands, sell homemade soap and sand sculptures – clearly my daughters have an entrepreneurial streak – but I’m afraid I’m going to come home one day and find my furniture for sale on the sidewalk. One of the sitters even had them clean out their closets! (I say a little thank you every time I open Nicole’s dresser drawer.) Overall we got through the summer with enough stimulation so that my gals won’t be hit with too much summer sliding. But we can afford it, if only barely. What about in families where camp or super sitters aren’t an option? Maybe summer is, as the Time article suggests, an outdated idea which dates back to when America was a farm based economy and kids had to leave school in the summer to go work the crops and help with harvests. Maybe we should abolish summer vacation all together to avoid having kids suffer learning loss, or be left without supervision, and in some cases hungry – those roughly 30 million kids who get free or reduced price school breakfasts and lunches during the school year don’t get those meals during the summer and many of them simply go without until classes start again in the fall. Maybe the idea of summer vacation doesn't work anymore.

They tried year round school in our area for a while but it seemed to be a special kind of hell for the parents whose kids were in it because the district didn’t do it in a uniform fashion so only some schools were on year round and others weren’t. If you had one kid in a year round and another in a traditional calendar school, your kids were never off at the same time and you could never go away on a vacation without having to pull someone out of class. Also, most of the summer camps and enrichment programs are set up for the June to August period, so the families that had kids in the year round schools and would have them home for a weeks at a time in November or February found that they never had enough choices for child care coverage, no camps to step in and watch the kids from 9 to 6. It was pretty much a nightmare that seemed to go away quietly after continued parental protest. There are still a few around, but I think the grand plan to turn all LAUSD schools into year round schools died a needed death.

I would hate the idea of being in school year round. I like summer and all it represents - vacations, picnics, beach days, star watching, playing out in the yard until the street lights come on, roasting marshmellows over a bonfire, BBQs, concerts in the park and yes, summer camp. I like knowing that there are 8 to 10 weeks where we can feel a break from the rest of the year. We try to address our own personal summer slide issues, but as a nation, we can’t ignore the fact that there are significant numbers of children for whom summer is not a joyful time. I love the back-to-school backpack drives that ask families to assemble a backpack to donate to a child from a low income family who may not get new school supplies or back-to-school clothing. Maybe we need to address the summer vacation disparity in the same way. Perhaps, just as we support back to school efforts, we can support programs in our community which provide summer enrichment activities for kids who don’t have the options that many of our children have. Next summer, my daughters and I are excited to volunteer for a week at a summer camp for children from low income families who have sickle cell disease. It provides the kids a camp experience they might otherwise not have, a chance to get away and forget about being sick for a while, but at the same time gives them the medical support they need. This is a great program, but there are many, many more across the country which could use your support.

So when February comes around - and it will be here faster than you can say, "What happened to 2010," and you start worrying about what camp to stick your kids in for summer camp to give them a stimulating, fun experience, (and so you can get some work done and have a moment’s peace), consider reaching out to a program or group that helps all kids enjoy the same kind of summers we remember – ones full of fun, play, and the kind of learning that comes from experiences you can’t get in the classroom, but only during the lazy days of summer.

You can read the Time article at,8599,2005654,00.html.
Oh, just wanted to let you know that for the next couple of weeks my friend Rosanne Welch is going to be guest blogging for me. In addition to being co-author and co-editor with me on our parenting book, Three Ring Circus, Rosanne is completing her dissertation at Claremont Graduate University on the work of married screenwriter couples in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s, teaches One-Hour Drama writing at California State University, Fullerton and UCLA Extension, and is a tv writer whose credits include Beverly Hills 90210, Picket Fences, Touched by an Angel and a two-part documentary for ABC NEWS/Nightline entitled Bill Clinton and the Boys Nation Class of 1963. So have a read and enjoy. I've gotten some of my best advice from Rosanne about a number of things from personal to career stuff. Although she claims that my advice convinced her to have a child when she was on the fence. Apparently, during a hike, when she said she wasn't sure she wanted to have a baby, I said, "At the very least, think of it this way, why would you deny yourself the opportunity to do something that only 1/2 the people on the planet can do?" So she had a baby. Clearly, I need to be careful what I say to people. But over a dozen years later, she was a really cool kid who smashed (lovingly) cake in my daughter's face on her first birthday and has taught both my girls to answer the phone with a professionalism which rivals any assistant I've ever had. Rosanne's son is great, so I guess I give pretty good advice, too. But if you're trying not to have a baby, I suggest you don't go hiking with me.

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