With our public schools closing in the next few days, let me emphasize as I have done for the last several years, right here in this opinion column, the case for summer learning opportunities for our young people, especially our low income children and youth. For so many of our young people, summer can’t just be a vacation.
In making the case for summer learning opportunities, I still believe that as a community, we all have a responsibility for the general well-being of our youth, particularly when many of them will spend the next nine weeks of potentially unstructured and unsupervised time during this summer. Further, this community has the responsibility of making our youth a priority and finding ways to support them in their attempts to do the right thing, making it imperative for us to help channel that extra time in positive directions. We must help make summer break a time for continued learning by providing enriching and memorable growth experiences for our young people.
Having addressed the issue of making sure all children are “safe, healthy and engaged in learning” starting in the summer of 2014, it was my fervent hope that we would have had in place by now high-quality summer learning programs for the young people in Sampson County. It was suggested that the summer of 2014 would be the time for us to create a broader awareness for summer activities to better serve all our youth, including summer internships and temporary summer jobs, while exposing our youth to future career options and grooming them for future local employment.
Interestingly, it was further suggested that these 21st century summer activities could have been made possible by transforming our public schools into community centers and by sharing resources resulting from the better coordination and collaboration among our schools, businesses, local government, law enforcement, civic organizations and the faith community.
Yes, by now, we could have started something that would have continued for generations to come, helping our youth achieve their personal best, by letting summer be a time for continued learning which would help them maintain hope for a brighter future. Yet, instead, we are still shutting down schools all summer which suggests to me we are not serious about reducing poverty and ending inequality in this country. And I join the growing voice, sounding the alarm that “summer vacation is a disaster for poor children and their parents.”
What is clear is the fact that children who aren’t engaged in enriching and stimulating summer learning activities experience a greater degree of summer learning loss. Unfortunately, too many of our county youth still have little or no options for a safe, positive and enjoyable experience, with summer opportunities simply out of reach.
Let’s begin to think creatively about summer learning, including it as one of our priorities, urging all community stakeholders to create and help fund high-quality summer learning programs for our young people.
Larry Sutton is a retired school teacher from Clinton High School.