By Hollis Wormsby, Jr.
Over the next few days most of the school systems in the area will be dismissing students for the summer. And while this should be a time of great joy, for parents in Birmingham it is also a time of great trepidation. For many students the end of the school year means the beginning of three unsupervised months on the streets. Yes, some children will be in camps, or off visiting family as I used to do, but for too many children, because of economic reality and perhaps even in part because of a lack of effort, the summer will be a long series of days filled with waking up when they feel like it, with no apparent objective in sight.
In summer time the frequency of violent acts carried out by youth increases, in part because we have so many more youth left unsupervised. As a parent, even if you are a parent without significant means, it is important that you give conscious thought to where your children will be this summer. A couple of summers ago you could register your children at AG Gaston Boys and Girls Club for a whole summer program for $250 for the whole summer, and this included lunch and snacks. UAB has some very affordable camps that will help expose your children to math, and even the arts sciences. And it is important to enroll your children in these programs both because of what they will do because they are in the programs and because of what they won’t do because they are in these programs.
Our children who are left unsupervised for the summer, are not just more likely to get hurt or get into trouble, they are also losing ground on retaining what they have learned from the previous school year. There are some school systems nationally that have been experimenting with school calendar years that include almost no summer break, because of the fear of the momentum that students lose when they are out of a structured educational environment for a few months.
We also don’t want our children free to just sit around and watch tv and play video games all day. For older children there are plenty of volunteer opportunities available where they could contribute through a local church or community center. You could have your child cut the grass of a senior citizen who lives in your community and might be struggling to take care of their yard. You might even wind up being surprised by the fact that your child shares experiences they learn from the citizen in the process.
You could work with children on a family or community garden. When I was growing up everyone in my family had a garden, and on summer weekends we weeded, and trimmed and ultimately picked from these gardens to feed our families. And while we worked in those gardens we also listened to stories from our aunts and uncles that were part of the way that values were shared.
You could go on a family camping trip to teach your children about nature and about respecting their role in the chain of life. I had an uncle who used to get me to walk out in the woods with him, and he would require that I not say a word, just walk. For a while I wouldn’t see anything, but after a while where the animals have observed you and determined that you are not a threat, you will begin to see the animal hierarchy in all its natural beauty. First you will begin to see just the birds and other smaller animals, but then you will begin to see raccoons and possums, and sometimes on a good day, you might actually walk up on a deer. At the end of the walk Unc would explain to me how the animals depend on each other for a kind of universal warning system. When the larger animals see the smaller animals react they go on alert as well and look to see what the danger is.
The moral of the story is that for a number of reasons we need to all be vigilant that the young people we share responsibility for have an agenda for these summer months, other than just laying around until school starts again. First of all, unsupervised young people in Birmingham can quickly become a danger to themselves and others. And secondly, because there are so many unique learning opportunities that you can create for your child with just a little effort. It is one of the more important investments you can make in your children, or at least that’s the way I see it.
(Hollis Wormsby has served as a featured columnist for the Birmingham Times for more than 29 years. He is the former host of Talkback on 98.7 KISS FM and of Real Talk on WAGG AM. If you would like to comment on this column you can email him at email@example.com)