Monday, June 25, 2012

Not So Summery Vacation

This post is perhaps a little too late, since the vast majority of us have finished the school year, but it's something I'm thinking about today on the first day of summer vacation (or summer lay-off, depending on who you talk to).

Some students have a very hard time as summer break approaches, and I find this especially true working in the urban setting. Although the academics may not always be of interest, school is a place where at-risk children can receive appropriate socialization, two out of their three daily meals, positive reinforcement and modeling from an adult, and a sense of safe structure. The proposition of losing those things is enough to make anyone anxious, but for a child that may have little stability in their life, it can seem like the end.

In my building, we notice a huge rise in behavior problems during the months of May and June. Some data to back that up (since we love data up in here): in April, we had 63 discipline referrals, an average of 4.20 per day. In May, we had 183 discipline referrals (8.71 per day) and in June, we had 93 (5.81 per day--and not all of them have been entered in the system yet).

Kids have a very hard time coping with "goodbyes" when they're leaving a place they feel safe. They may act up or try to jeopardize connections and bonds they have with friends and teachers, so that they can avoid an uncomfortable separation at the end of June--think of it like, "If you don't like me or are mad at me, you won't care that I'm gone." They may actively try to get suspended, so that they won't be there the last few days to celebrate and say goodbye, even if they don't want to be at home in the first place. I've also had kids that try to cope by fibbing about their summer plans or where they will be next school year; a bunch of students at the end of this year told me that they're moving, going to another building, etc, when I know from speaking to their parents or older siblings that I'll see them in September.

So what is a school professional to do? Personally, I don't make the end of school a big deal. The bigger the fanfare, the bigger the anxiety, the bigger the transition, the bigger the disruption. While I may have been trumpeting up and down Main St. in my head, I gave my usual hugs, shoulder squeezes, fist bumps, and a casual "See you in September!" as the kids left last week. When students had concerns about the summer or about missing school (and for the 8th graders, moving up to high school), I addressed them individually. For students known to have poor coping skills or difficulties with transition, it may be a good idea to address it in groups or within a more counseling/teaching setting, so that the students can learn some more concrete skills that they can take with them.

Professionals should also be searching for and providing students and families with resources that can fill the void that school did during the year. Community resources and organizations like a Food Bank, YMCA, summer camp, free library reading programs, etc will help to support the basic needs of school, like meals and socialization, and also allow for summer fun and structure. In my office, we had a bunch of applications for summer camps and programs, as well as information about free classes, programs, and reading challenges. We also send our students in our Food Bank's backpack program home with a bigger stash. It may beneficial for some students to attend summer schooling, to make sure they don't lose any academic skills, and to keep up consistency. Last summer, I had two sisters attend summer school because they wanted to, not because they needed to--that's dedication.

I'll be thinking about my kiddos this summer! I was approved for 15 half days of summer work, which I won't be starting til mid-July. I'm not sure where I'll be operating out of, as my CSE team will not be working this summer, so I may be bounced around. We shall see! In the meantime, I'll be whiling away the hours at the gym, trying to get in shape for my October wedding... here goes nothing.

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