By Zerline Hughes
Yeah, that’s right; during the barrage of winter blizzards, snowstorms and hasty pairing of gloves and mittens on cold school days in January and February, I was busy researching low-cost or free camps, applying for registration scholarships and jockeying for position online and in person to be the lucky winner of two spots in various summer programs for my two children.
It’s hard work, but in order to keep these two kids of mine involved, enriched, out of harm’s way and up-to-date on progress from the last school year, this is the only way. As products of a divorced, “broken” family, the odds are stacked against my children. As youths living in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 7, one of the lowest-performing communities in the nation’s capital, they stack a bit higher. And having an African-American son as part of my pair, the odds are stacked up to the ceiling.
Out-of-school time — after-school hours and summer vacation time — is crucial time for our youth that is often mismanaged. According to the National Summer Learning Association, “more than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.”
As a result, high school graduation and college entrance rates are lower for lower-income youth. Further, the association’s studies show that most students lose two months of grade-level equivalency in math skills during summer break. Low-income students’ reading achievement is affected negatively, while their middle-class peers make slight gains.
So, like every summer, I’m on a mission to make sure these two have a competitive advantage — and fun. They won’t be too overscheduled, but they will definitely not be idle on the couch or simply playing at the park every day with no enriching activities as part of their schedule.
On the list for the girl: Girl Scouts overnight camp. For the boy: jazz camp. Together, they are registered for Boys & Girls Club camp for two weeks, and swim camp for another two weeks. Mixed in there, they have a few road trips and some at home downtime scheduled when I hope to sneak in — I mean integrate — some math, reading, geography and science lessons.
Many parents and education experts believe traveling is good for kids. Whether a two-hour road trip, cross-country travel or time abroad, kids that travel are exposed to so much more that, in turn, keeps up their morale, adds to and heightens their young life’s experiences and shows them a lifestyle they may want to achieve.
Many families like us find it challenging to enroll our children in adventurous programs and schedule family trips due to financial limits and work schedules. However, many programs offer scholarships and free enrollment and operate before- and after-care programs to accommodate working families. Further, travel can entail leaving only your ZIP code or area code for a new experience. Plane tickets are not a necessity.
Making good use of out-of-school time is a necessity, despite the sacrifice. I can attest to getting a full return on investment as my children continue to stay on the right path (thus far), speak highly and happily of their vacation and are achieving educational success.
And one more plus, according to the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and their Families: The entire community benefits when programs address the factors that contribute to increased street violence and crime involving youth during the summer months.
Zerline Hughes is a Washington, D.C., communications consultant and blogger on social justice issues. Her blog Not These Two focuses on keeping her children out of the school-to-prison pipeline. Follow her on Twitter at @zerlinehughes.