School’s out, and kids get to stay up late, sleep in, watch cartoons all day, or run around outside like hooligans; BUT, the lucky few get to go to that special place called summer school. I never attended as a child, but the three states and three school districts where I’ve gotten to teach during summer school all have a commonality: An academic agenda.
Well, naturally, it is school, silly. Summer camp, Vacation Bible School, Boys and Girls Club summer activities—all these places also include teaching and learning, but somehow they have a little more fun in the program than a regular school district summer school. What’s usually at the top of the academic agenda? Reading and math. Can working on reading and math be super-awesome-best-fun-you-ever-had? Yes. Do many summer schools present it as such? Yes, or they at least try to do so. Have I witnessed it as super-awesome-fun? Only a little.
Summer School 2003
Nick looked delighted, like a recent kindergartner should, as he bounced into summer school on that first day. His older sister lingered, patted him lovingly on the head, and told him, in a motherly tone, to “be good.” His blue eyes flashed timidly around the room and he quietly joined the other students in a circle on the floor.
We started the day with reading. The kids were supposed to sit around the teacher and look at the pictures from the book as she read it to them. This was the best part of reading time. Most did need extra help in the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but how many others were out on the streets all day getting to live up their summer free time?
Later, Nick’s busy body wandered the room. I asked him if he would like to read some books or find some more math games to play, like the other children were doing. “No,” he replied calmly and with a toothless grin he lisped; “I justht want to dancthe.”
His teacher later confided to me that this little boy, who was scheduled to enter her first grade class, should really stay home another year. He was bright and eager but she feared that his slower progress in reading would damage his spirits. She was an excellent teacher with her hands tied by the wishes of the parents and the same-age grouping that the system of education puts into place for grade levels.
Nick was indeed a very bright kid. He knew all about whales and dolphins because he had been to the San Juan Islands in his grandparents’ boat. He loved all kinds of animals. Demonstrating how prairie dogs live, he went under the table and said: “Sthee, I’m a prairie dog and I’m underground.”
He had the most fun at recess, saying, “I justht want to run laps.” That and play soccer. I played with him and he told me “time out” and came over and gave me a very serious look as if I had done something wrong. “I need to talk to you,” he says. “You need to kick the ball a little harder.” Thanks, Coach.
Back in the classroom, I told Nick we needed to work on his letters. Suddenly the bright little boy, the one who eagerly taught me so much, put his hands to the sides of his face and looked down with a sad expression. “I didn’t bring my thinking cap today.”
“You can use mine,” I offered, and made like I was taking it off my head and putting it onto his. This didn’t quite get the desired result.
“I’m sthtupid,” he said.
“Nick, did someone tell you that?”
“No, I justht know it. That’s why I’m in sthummer sthchool.”
“No, that is not true. Summer school is just a place for more learning,” what could I say?
“I can’t do it,” he continued. We practiced a few letters and then I let him quit. He wanted to read the ABC books so I felt encouraged that he wanted to read anything and I let him turn to those without pressing him too hard.
At the end of the day, riding home on my bike I passed Nick and his brother and sister as they were walking. “See you tomorrow,” I yelled out.
He pointed strictly; “Remember, tomorrow: The Championship!” Soccer on the brain. He wanted to be a kid, not a scholar just yet.
*photo credit Otter Mii-kun