Why We Should Say Goodbye to the Lazy Summer Fantasy

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By Kelly Ruemmele

To click through the images of summertime on social media is to imagine three glorious months of summer love, summer vacation and summer jobs. But behind each smiling selfie and image of the family beach vacation lurks the harsh reality of summer childcare. Over the last 25 years, the cost of childcare has nearly doubled from $84 per week in 1983 to $143 in 2011, according to the U.S. Census. Forget summer fun — for most parents, the summer months means scrambling to figure out: who is going to watch the kids?

The answer, along with help, often comes from family. Nearly one-third of working parents rely on relatives to tend to their children over the summer months. Approximately 13 percent of older school-aged to middle-school children, who have outgrown daycare camp, end up fending for themselves, otherwise known as “self care.” Only 20 percent of parents send their kids to formal, paid childcare.

Working class families fare the worst in the summer, as their jobs often offer less flexibility, unpaid leave. Regardless of income status, children gain little while losing approximately one to two months of academic instruction over the summer, particularly in math and spelling, according to the National Education Association Summer Learning Resource.

Year-round school is one solution to compensate for the loss of reading and math skills over the summer months, while meeting the needs of our modern-day society. The Congressional Research Service, the in-house think tank for Congress, reports that some four percent of all U.S. public schools operate on a year-round schedule, which translates into just over 3,700 schools. The most popular year around plan is known as the 45-15 plan, according to the National Education Association. Under that model, students attend school for 45 days and then get three weeks off. Another option is the 60/20 calendar. Students attend 60 days of instruction followed by 20 days of vacation.

According to one study, parents found the three-week breaks, especially during holidays, easier to accommodate. The truth is, the parents of children currently enrolled in schools providing year round scheduling enjoy the flexibility of the shorter breaks and are able to take advantage of discounted travel cost.

Many older teens, at schools operating under the traditional academic calendar, already attend what amounts to year round school. In 2010,more than 45.6 percent 16-19 year olds attended summer school.

Recently, year-round school gained traction in America’s heartland. At the end of the last school year, two North Kansas City schools transitioned to the year round calendar. Parents had the opportunity to transfer their children to a traditional school or participate in the year round 45-15 plan. Some 95 percent of parents opted to stay.

But year-round education is a polarizing subject that divides educators and parents alike. Critics argue that the loss of summer camp, summer jobs or unique educational summer internships isn’t worth the extra associated costs of year-round education. For my part, I have weathered almost 15 years of finding summer solutions for three children though an accumulative of 14 hot, muggy summers in the suburbs of Houston.

What I haven’t experienced with my own children, I’ve observed from my work as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner in an underserved area, a few miles away from my home. Whether in my middle-class neighborhood or the working class community where I work, the need for year round education remains the same.

The truth is that the academic year as we know it is a relic from a bygone past. In the 1800′s, Americans relied on extra hands to plow the fields in rural areas but urban schools often offered year round school.

Nowadays, ask parents and teenage kids about their summer plans and the response is more likely “nothing” than any mention of fieldwork. After a week or two of vacation, it’s “hurry up and wait for school to start.” Additionally, kids across the socio-economic spectrum often kill time and boredom with video game playing and television watching, leading to weight gain.

With harried parents and idle children all waiting for summer to end, we should reevaluate our archaic school calendar. The three empty summer months has become as outdated as the single-income household and easy-to-find summer jobs. After a summer of juggling family and work to meet today’s families’ challenges, it’s time to let go of the summer dream.

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