Summer Learning Memories

“Summer experiences and out-of-school time should be embraced as opportunities to not only help put children on more equal footing when they return to the classroom but to empower youth so that they return with improved self-esteem and have more positive experiences within the school community,” reports Georgia Hall, Ph.D., director and senior research scientist of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST).

This time of year, I am a bit nostalgic about the great experiences I’ve had in summer programs. Our July webinar on Sustaining Summer Learning reminded me of what makes great summer learning experiences. On the webinar, we discussed three risks youth face in the summer and how programs can mitigate these risks. Summer can create health risks, academic risks, and safety risks.

I’ve been thinking in particular about how summer programs address health risks. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to create a summer program from scratch. As a new program, we had a limited budget and no transportation. We really felt it was important to get out and do things over the summer, so we learned how to organize field trips around walking and using public transportation. This was a learning experience for our staff and participants, most of whom were more accustomed to getting into a car than riding a bus or walking. I want to share the story of Catherine who found this particularly difficult.

On her first day, Catherine complained about being tired all the way to the swimming pool (a quarter mile walk). She thought it was too far to walk, she was hot, she was tired –you get the picture. Once we got to the pool, I was repeatedly pulling Catherine aside to talk to her about her behavior. “You can't chase, or jump on, or splash the other kids. They don’t like it.” She was not getting along with anyone. Even her sister didn’t want to play with her. Then, of course, the walk back was even worse because everyone, including me, was tired after two hours at the pool.

Six weeks later, Catherine had lost six pounds. She was able to keep up with the group when we walked and wasn’t complaining (at least not as much). She had made some friends. She was part of a small group of girls who were sharing books back and forth and built playhouses together on the playground. It was great to see how she had grown emotionally and in her physical fitness.

Six months later, I ran into her father downtown. He told me that Catherine was having a great year at school. She was making friends and having fewer problems getting along with her classmates. He even said the whole family was trying to be more active to encourage Catherine to maintain her physical fitness.

Sometimes the impacts of our programs are big, but not always. Helping one child build her fitness and social-emotional skills made this a great summer for me. There were other great things that happened that summer, but Catherine is the child I remember the most. Who is the child you remember?