Columns Opinion — 12 June 2014
Alexandria in ACTion: Don’t let summer break go to waste

By John Porter
(File Photo) 

“School is out at last/And I’m so glad I passed.” These lyrics from an old — and I mean old — rock ‘n’ roll song were some of my favorites while growing up. I’d come home on the last day of school, place this record on my parents’ stereo and officially kick off summer vacation.

As I got older, though, it seemed summer was less about family trips and more about summer jobs, sports and other activities.

Today, parents look on summer a bit differently than when I was growing up. I spent the days playing baseball or hide and seek, occupying myself until dinner or dark. Today’s kids have many more options available to keep them occupied and engaged in positive activities with long-term benefits — from health and well-being to educational performance and career success.

For many families, participating in these activities is not limited by time, money or location. For others, it is much tougher.

The potential consequences of not keeping young people active during the summer should be cause for great concern for our entire community. Research indicates summer learning loss can be dramatic for young people, particularly those who already struggle academically.

Equally disturbing is how summer months can contribute to childhood obesity. Research indicates children gain weight more rapidly during the summer break. An Ohio State study by Paul von Hippel concludes that “children gain weight three times faster during the summer months.”

We also know that involvement in safe and supervised summer programs keeps young people out of trouble and on track academically. An Afterschool Alliance study supports the valuable role of such programs, indicating that these initiatives fill “the invaluable role of providing essential services — such as a safe and supervised environment, academically enriching activities, healthy snacks and meals, and caring and supportive mentors — to children and families most in need of support.”

So, what to do to make the most of summer and keep our young people on the path to the brightest possible future?

Doing a bit of research may seem daunting, but staying informed and pursuing the benefits of engaging summer activities is crucial. It can pay dividends over a lifetime.

Fortunately, Alexandria’s young people have a distinct advantage. They have access to a variety of summer opportunities provided by the city, school district and broader nonprofit community that address their wide range of interests and needs.

For example, the Alexandria Department of Recreation and Cultural Activities provides everything from swimming and fencing lessons to technology camp and Lil Titans football.

Alexandria City Public Schools offers summer educational opportunities, particularly for students in need of an academic boost in core subjects. Many of these programs are followed with recreational activities after class.

Local nonprofits also are important partners in this effort. For example:

• The Dunbar Alexandria-Olympic Boys and Girls Club holds a summer camp that promises “high yield learning activities designed to prevent summer learning loss” in addition to a healthy lunch.

• Casa Chirilagua provides a daily home-based program with one-on-one tutors to prevent reading regression.

• The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria offers a summer camp for youth interested in animals.

• YoKid is planning to provide yoga classes for teens and younger children.

• The Art League and Alexandria Seaport Foundation offer camps in their respective areas of expertise.

• The Alexandria Police Youth Camp will take place in Kilmarnock, Va., as it has for more than 60 years.

And there is so much more going on around town this summer. Go to www.actforalexandria.org/summer14 for a broader list of opportunities.

I have great summer memories from my less structured childhood vacations. Many others of my generation do, too. But we can’t let our nostalgia keep us from doing right by our children today. Our challenge, and opportunity, is to help make the most of this — and every — summer.


- The writer is the executive director of ACT for Alexandria.

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