By Christian Rhodes, Homeroom, The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Education
My first “real” job was as a camp counselor at the local Boys and Girls Club in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. I spent the summer ensuring middle school students had fun while learning. I would stay up late thinking of new lessons to teach or a motivating message I would recite during our morning check-ins. I appreciated each high five, smile, and even a few tears as camp concluded as I got ready for my next semester at UNC-Chapel Hill. Occasionally, I would see my “students” when I visited home at the grocery store or church. I was always surprised that they remembered our special handshakes, mostly because I had forgotten them. I loved being a camp counselor. I loved the young people I met and hopefully positively influenced.
That feeling of nostalgia is happening across the country with even greater importance than when I served. Organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, faith organizations, park and recreation centers, and others are stepping up to provide safe, engaging environments for students who desperately need a sense of normalcy. The need for building and, in some cases, rebuilding positive relationships with peers and trusting adults is paramount this summer, along with the traditional necessity for high-quality academic support. Some programs set up vaccination centers for their adolescent students eligible for the vaccine, while others are taking the necessary precautions to ensure our youngest learners are safe while they learn and have fun this summer.
This week, we celebrate National Summer Learning Week, sponsored by the National Summer Learning Association, highlighting and bringing awareness to the great work organizations and governmental entities are embarking on to provide students with a “summer like no other” after a “year we will not forget.” Secretary Cardona, elected officials, and others are visiting summer sites across the country to bring awareness to the importance of quality summer programming, many that expanded this year due to the investment of the American Rescue Plan (ARP). As a result, millions of students across the country are experiencing the joys of summer enrichment, maybe even for the first time due to the ARP’s investments in summer learning and loss of instructional time. While summer learning is a critical component of our work to reopen our schools and “build back better,” the truth is that quality, engaging summer learning is simply part of excellent education and something that every student must be able to access.