Memo to kids: We have plans for summer

Sunday, April 26, 1998

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It's nearly June, so I guess inner-city kids are getting ready to hitch old Dobbin to the plow and start cultivating the crops. Suburban schoolchildren, too, soon will be dusting off their clod-hoppers and overalls for plowing, planting and harvest.

What? They are no longer needed to help out with the family farm? We are no longer an agrarian society? Boy, you turn your back for a hundred years or so and look what happens. Well, if these children are no longer needed to help bale hay, why aren't they in school? And if they aren't in school, where are they? Not working. Most of them are too young. Or unskilled. Or unmotivated.

Most of them are not home with Mom. Three out of four mothers of school-age children work outside the home. And the vacationing students surely are not bouncing around behind a manure spreader or helping Dad pinch potato weevils. They have better things to do.

Jerry Springer School

Some of them will catch up on Jerry Springer and Power Ranger episodes they missed during the academic year. Those with cable TV can find an even greater array of educational opportunities guaranteed to turn their brains to sushi.

Of course, many of the children will be working on their home computers, enriching their minds with the help of the Internet. Perhaps they will be in a chat room with someone named Butch who would like to get to know them better.

Others will be at the mall. Or the video arcade. Or on the streets. Little kids will be at the baby-sitters or day care. The lucky ones will be at swimming pools and horse camp and tennis camp and computer camp.

The really lucky ones will be in school.

"Year-round school is the most logical, sensible plan to educate kids," Jeff Brokamp says firmly. He was principal at Crest Hills School in Roselawn when it went to a 12-month academic year.

Parents love it. Kids don't have much trouble adjusting. It's probably easier than spending all of September in review -- trying to remember where they were before vacation started. At first, students and some teachers at Crest Hills reported twinges of jealousy in early June when the nearly three months of vacation was starting at other schools.

By now, most of the Crest Hills kids like their three-week break every nine weeks. Students who are falling behind spend two of those weeks getting help. During the third week, they can be off or take a week of extra classes such as music, writing or dance.

"It's absolutely the best way to serve the kids," Mr. Brokamp says. "Of course, there are some problems."

Jumping hurdles

Some of the hurdles to year-round school are basic and mechanical. No air conditioning. Expense of transportation and personnel. Some of them are complicated and human. Teacher burnout.

"Year-round schooling with remedial help for students who need it every nine weeks is very intense," the principal warns. "I was at Crest Hills for three years and every year I saw the teachers come back a little less energized."

So let's get teachers some help. Job sharing, for instance. How about more co-op students from area colleges and universities? Couldn't some of the big kids help with the little ones? How about some non-academic but nonetheless educational programs, perhaps lessons best suited to warm weather?

Gardening. Air conditioner installation. Carpentry. Yard work. Painting. Trash removal. Graffiti removal. Photography. Some schools have been lucky enough to have parents and alumni repair and clean their kids' schools, paint lockers, plant trees. What's wrong with putting the kids to work?

They might even learn something.

< Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

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