By Tom Casey
The summer months for so many children are a refreshing respite from the rigor and tedium of a challenging school academic requirement and extra-curricular schedule. The summer agenda for many of these kids is a mixture of sleep-ins, maybe part-time work (though not as much today), family vacations, concerts, summer camps or pursuit of a hobby or sport. Yes, maybe even a book or two for a summer reading requirement. Such is the case if you are one of the more fortunate children.
But July and August are less than pleasant, healthy or enriching for an increasing segment of school-aged children. For 10 months a year, school is not only a learning time for these kids, but a significant social, emotional and healthy need in their personal lives. These young people to whom we refer reside in the impoverished inner city, a fractured home-setting, an unemployed household or even on the street. School above all else it provides as a comfortable security blanket and safe haven for these children for 10 months a year.
These less fortunates have few pursuits to make summertime other than a fearful, boring and even risky time. You know the old adage about, "idle time" and "idle hands."
One particular necessity of life that threatens this young population is hunger and malnutrition. The programs during the school year are staples on which they depend to maintain reasonable health and nutrition. During the summer months, the provision for regular and healthy meals is no guarantee.
In this regard, the city of Boston deserves an A+ on its Report Card as it takes summer food program to the streets. The Boston School Department already offers breakfast and lunch to about 11,000 kids at 120 community centers and summer school programs. But what about the rest of the kids not enrolled in these traditional sites?
The School Department mobile vehicle has added announced sites and locations to set up food tables (Franklin Park, Carson Beach, for example) and, as if a magnet, children have flocked to the breakfasts and lunches. Over 247 lunches were recently distributed at Franklin Park. All this is made possible through a community-needs-conscious Mayor Tom Menino and a USDA summer foods grant to the schools.
With as many as 78 percent (!) of Boston's schoolchildren qualifying for free and reduced lunch during the school year, it's evident many kids still are left hungry, however.
Poverty and the associated developmental deficits continue to add to the widening gaps in school achievement and lifetime opportunities between the haves and the have-nots in our society. Interventions, support and programs must become particularly focused in these summer months, not just the school year, during these early childhood years.
Such a condition as described is not solely an urban affliction. Local agencies, through the schools, can identify children on a regional basis even in the more rural areas and promote joint cooperative camps, food programs, summer trips and mentoring.
Don't look for Washington to assist. It's clear to this writer that our federal government abdicates any concern for promoting the concept of "No Child Left Behind." To make matters worse, one of the congressional "leaders (?)" offered a rather sadly telling statement (ignorant?) in espousing that the "success of their current legislative session will be decided on how many laws they can REPEAL."
So much for forward thinking!
The answers rest with those of us who care.
Tom Casey is a consultant and retired educator. He lives in Lancaster with his wife, Kathy.