Over the next few weeks school will end for most American students of whatever age, from college to pre-Kindergarten. With camps, recreational centers, community pools and sports teams unlikely to be at full strength this summer or operating at all, summer jobs non-existent, parties and social gatherings scaled way back, what exactly are all these kids going to do this summer?
This is more than just about the opportunity costs of young people not having enriching experiences, socialization, education, jobs and physical activity. If kids are home it is harder for parents to go back to work. If kids have nothing to do, some are assuredly not going to use all this free time wisely. Given how many young people we are talking about — at least 75 million or so — this is no small matter, and it is coming upon us very quickly. We need to start having a big conversation about the summer and our kids, as citizens, parents, educators and elected officials as we all struggle together to adapt to our “new normal.”
We’ve begun that conversation in our own family as our college freshman finished his classes on Wednesday and my two other teenagers finish school in early June. My older children had summer employment lined up — one at a garage, the other at a restaurant. Is it safe for them to do this work? Can they take public transportation? Should they do it for free it the employer can’t pay? And what happens if schools and college don’t reopen this fall? We are facing the prospect of many many months of many millions of kids with very little to do and an educational system facing financial hardship and fatigue.
I don’t know how the US should handle this, but I do have some thoughts what schools of older kids — middle and high school, community and four year college — can be doing this summer. They should stay open, virtually, and be there for their students in some manner. In talking to the schools of my own children, we’ve come up with a few ideas that may be worth trying out, while allowing educators the time off they deserve this summer:
Offer a course called “Navigating COVID19” — Use the academic resources of the school to lead a summer long online course which gives young people a far better understanding of the virus and our collective societal response. The course could include a comprehensive curriculum which teaches them about the biology, economics and geopolitics of COVID. They could study how their own community is responding and discuss the tough decisions we have to make about social distancing, masking, testing and tracing. It can attempt to give them skills to deal with the natural anxiety, loss, struggle which comes with COVID and how and why they need to make good decisions about their own behavior. We should try to make our young people experts in infectious disease — it will be knowledge that they can use their throughout their lives, and could make a real difference in our efforts to defeat this virus in the coming months.
As a parent one thing I’ve learned through this crisis is kids are struggling to understand who to believe, and what is true. They don’t always trust their parents, and let’s be honest, the information coming from the federal government has been a bit wobbly. They need help in navigating COVID — and schools are perhaps the best tool we have now as a society to help them do so.
Questions of whether the course is live or recorded how much homework and reading there is, can be left up to each school. Schools should allow students to keep computers or iPads or other equipment over the summer, and work as hard as they can with local governments to help those students without access to broadband or hardware to participate.
Keep School Clubs Open — Create summer jobs for some students by paying to keep school clubs open — debate, chess, martial arts, e-sports, art etc. Will allow students across the country to stay engaged in hobbies and communities they love, and provide leadership opportunities for tens of thousands of students who may otherwise be idle this summer. Anticipating that parties and gatherings of young people will remain infrequent, we need ways to help break the debilitating isolation so many kids are feeling these days.
Make Sure The School Newspaper Stays Open — Like the club strategy, pay students to keep the school newspaper open and reporting. Will give students an informed student led set of voices to help them stay current as they navigate these challenging times. Encourage experimentation with Zoom or other video platforms for interviews or performances. Keep students talking to one another, learning, engaged. Ask alums or local journalists to “chair” this experimental effort, offering their expertise along the way.
Keep “Advisories” Open — Every school handles small grouping of students in different ways, but for those who have “home room” or “advisories” they should keep meeting weekly over the summer, doing a check in, let folks share their stories of how they are getting by, staying happy. Bigger colleges should break up into smaller “colleges,” and keep video conversations going with 150–200 students weekly. Students need to see one another, stay in touch — this will be a great way.
Like many parents, our family is all of a sudden waking up to the challenge of what exactly will our kids be doing this summer. I think this is a far bigger challenge than many realize, and the country should begin a big conversation about it, spitballing ideas, working to keep our young people informed, safe and happy. Schools have a key role to play, and it is my hope they will step up and let their students know that even though school is ending they will be with them at every step pf the way in this challenging time.