Let’s talk about year-round school (but after summer)
Every summer, it seems, the idea that school should be held year-round is revisited (“Summer is the weak link,” TNT, 7-11). I’m an educator myself, working in the two-year college system. And while I’m willing to join the debate on a more logical and adult level at some point, right now I’d like to point out one of the main barriers to the proposal: It’s really fun to goof off during the summer, and we all know it.
Not that I get to do it all the time myself. Like many working adults, I spend five out of seven of my sunny days in an overly air-conditioned office, wearing a tank top underneath a sweater or jacket that I’m ready to peel off at 5 sharp.
The weekends are great, though, and even just the fact that it stays light later into the evening gives you a boost of energy. Then there’s vacation, the long-awaited chance to have more than two days off – and hopefully, the sun will shine during all of them.
But I remember the summers of my childhood: playing outside until dark, swimming in the Chehalis River at the edge of the property while wearing old tennis shoes so the mussel shells didn’t cut our feet, and collecting sandwich bags full of flat pennies that we had taped to the train track nearby. Oblivious to their cultural significance, we also collected little bags of arrowheads from the banks of the river.
We had imaginary friends who lived by that river, and their first cousins served as “ghost runners” for us during backyard baseball games.
As long as I remember childhood that way, supporting the idea of year-round school is difficult. Now I live vicariously through my 11-year-old son, Alex; he is able to be at home this summer with my husband, who works as a teacher. Alex sleeps in every morning with a cat on his bed, then spends his days playing with friends and neighbors and attending theater camp. He also plays Wiffle ball on the field he has set up in our yard—and yes, it comes complete with ghost runners.
Our current situation allows my husband to be home with Alex. But we have had summers on the other side of the equation as well, balancing work and child care with the dream of what summer should be like for kids.
All over this country, child-care facilities from Montessori to the Boys & Girls Club do an admirable job of helping children find some fun in the sun every summer. Meanwhile, some kids are home with moms or dads who have more time than money; others have two working parents who still have barely enough funds to go around. Worse, some kids are home alone who shouldn’t be. Imaginary friends are a lot of fun, after all, but they don’t make good child-care providers.
I believe that, as a society, we are just beginning to revisit what summer means to us. It’s something we need to work through together, because until we do, it will be hard to resolve the question of what’s best for kids. Compounding the question here in the Northwest, I think, is the limited amount of summer weather that we get, making those sunny summer days seem even more precious.
Although the agrarian societies of days past must have wanted children to have summers off from school so they could work as field hands, these last few generations – today’s decision makers – probably have summer memories more along the lines of my own.
So if you want to have a serious discussion about year-round school, I’m willing. But let me get back to you this fall. Right now my inner child, stuck indoors on a summer day, still wants to believe that, somewhere out there, a kid just heard the sound of an ice cream truck coming down the street. And meanwhile there is a ghost runner on third who is about to steal home.
Catherine Forte is one of six reader columnists whose work appears on these pages. She lives in Lakewood with her husband David, her son Alex and her recurring dream of actually using up a bottle of sunscreen. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.