Tuesday, June 26, 2012

School is out!

No more pencils, no more books…no more getting up at 5:45 a.m. to harass my reluctant high schooler whose alarm clock never accomplishes its task.  I’m probably happier than my kids are that today is the last day of school.
            I know there are lots of working parents out there who face weeks of nightmarish juggling to keep their offspring happy, occupied and out of trouble while school is out. I respect this struggle and do not wish to make light of it. Putting this reality aside, let’s just admit right here that summer vacation is fun for all of us. The rules change, the days last forever and the weather is so much nicer than, say, November to March.
            When my kids were really small, I relished my afternoons at the town beach while they splashed about, took swimming lessons and built sand cities for their matchbox cars. My daughter was especially adept at creating elaborate meals of twigs, rocks, assorted wet sand piles and popsicle sticks. This gourmet feast was often delivered on a battered Frisbee. We would enjoy ice cream pops from the concession stand, way too close to dinner time. Sometimes we would have pancakes for dinner or just a smorgasbord of leftovers from the fridge.
            Now that I have only teenagers to contend with, the morning is my own because they like to sleep until lunch. I do my very best to stay in bed until at least 7:30. The dog does not understand about summer break, so he still wants to go out at the crack of dawn. My darling husband cannot deny his nature and is usually up with the sun. Still, I do my best to guard a little daily “vacation” for myself. Year-long habits are hard to break.
            I didn’t realize how much I depend on the family schedule to keep me on track until one day last summer when I realized that I simply forgot to make dinner. Since the days have very little structure, meals are taken at a leisurely pace (read: any time anyone gets up and wants to eat something). As the lazy summer days blend together, I begin to Iose my grip on regularly scheduled things like garbage pick up, dry cleaning and grocery shopping. While this is not terrible, it can be inconvenient when someone is scavenging for lunch and can only find a few wilted lettuce leaves and one slice of American cheese. Sometimes we improvise and have fudgesicles.
            I know that the kids really savor that first week after school is finished. They watch movies until all hours, they sleep late, they swim and snack and sleep some more. They spend a lot of time shuttling back and forth to their friends’ houses. Then, things like summer camp, family vacations and jobs begin to creep into the mix. By the time the euphoria of July 4th has passed, my kids are beginning to miss school, just a little bit. Perhaps it is the opportunity it affords them to have very regular social interaction and the general entertainment they get from their activities and scholarly pursuits.
            My youngsters grumble about the homework packets they must complete each summer. I have many friends who get into serious combat with their children over these packets. Most of the time, these particular children have decided to wait until the night before school begins to complete this work. I appreciate the defense of this tactic: all of the work will be fresh in their minds and it will be easier to hit the ground running on the first day of the new school year. Their decision has absolutely nothing to do with procrastination.
            On the other hand, there is the group that believes it is better to get the work done immediately after school lets out, therefore allowing for maximum leisure in the following weeks. This crowd fears they might lose some intellectual ability over the summer and therefore are best prepared for success by doing the work as if it were an extension of the waning school year.
            I’m not sure either strategy is a great one. I suppose it depends on the student, the family and the gullibility of those in charge. One thing we all agree on in this house is the summer reading list. Each year we stomp off to a large bookseller, lists in hand, to do some serious shopping. One year we tried to use books from the library, but they were short a few copies and we feared for the health of one of these loaners if it went to the beach or on a plane. So, we invest in paperbacks and treat ourselves to enough reading material to last the whole summer. We do verbal book reports, and as the kids get older, we can get into some very lively discussions. For me, this is one of the very high points of summer vacation.
            Since the school-year schedule is usually complete chaos, we savor the ability to enjoy dinner outdoors in the summer, often the whole family is together.  Most of the time we have a few extra faces at the table, but this simply enhances the pleasure of hanging around until the fireflies show up. We play dominoes and Monopoly and I do my darndest to keep that TV dark for as long as I can.
            I have such marvelous childhood memories of running around outside after dinner. We played kick the can and flashlight tag. We played kickball in the street, long after the streetlights came on and the traffic dwindled. We trapped fireflies and eavesdropped on the grown-ups sitting on the porch. We did elaborate plays and performances for our parents, hoping for a trip to the ice cream shop as our payment for a great show. Back then, there were no seatbelt laws, heck, there weren’t seatbelts in many cars. We could fit 10 kids into a VW Beetle (the original!) and manage to bring home frozen slushy drinks for those who could not squeeze in to make the five-block trip to the 7-11.
            I wonder what kind of summer memories my own children are gathering. I’ll be very interested to know these things when they are old enough to look back and really appreciate the subtle pleasures along with the big pictures of family reunions and vacation trips.
Happy Summer Everyone!!!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

SEEing the Future

SEE-ing The Future

I watched her come up from the subway, wait at the light and cross the street. She was looking in the windows and swinging her bag, happy, as she peered ahead to see me at the end of the block. This is my “baby” coming from her SEE project internship in New York City. This child, (who am I kidding? young adult) who doesn’t like being alone and prefers trees and rolling landscapes to the cement jungle of a city, appeared to be totally comfortable. I smiled to myself and to her – this navigation of the city is just one of the many lessons she has learned in the few short weeks of her end-of-the-year adventure.

The Senior Enrichment Experience was introduced about four years ago when my oldest was a high school senior, and I must admit, I had my doubts. The whole program is based on the premise that the senior students find or create an internship or project for themselves to complete during the final three weeks of the school year. Technically, their academic year is over before the project begins. Though there is no grade given, the students are held to a rigorous set of rules and its completion is a requirement for graduation.

I thought this was a lot to ask of kids who were in the final stages of senioritis and in the full throes of spring fever. How in the world did those teachers think they could motivate these seniors to do so much independent work? Those adults saw an opportunity to help their students get a little real-life experience that includes selling their idea to the committee and the potential internship folks, networking, managing the demands of work and personal life, reporting to a boss or supervisor, commuting, and keeping weekly progress meetings with their mentors along with daily journals. The students are trying on a career or experience for size, and learning so much about themselves in the process. I have never been happier to be so very wrong in my initial skepticism.

Right now, there are New Fairfield High School seniors helping to reorganize the Dorothy Day soup kitchen in Danbury, writing cookbooks and presenting classes to elementary school children, shadowing nurses and teachers, creating teaching tools for the English and History departments in the middle and high school, acting as guy Friday at the United Nations, assisting the assistants of a Broadway costume designer and building a website for the music department. Past endeavors have included full theatrical productions, environmental studies centered on area wetlands, technical support to local non-profit agencies, and a variety of experiments based on physical therapy and aquatic plant growth. Some of the ideas can seem far-fetched and whacky, but the key goal of the SEE mandate is to find something to do that comes from a personal passion. If counting tadpoles in a vernal pool is your thing, it can qualify for your proposed project.

That this project will become mandatory is a good thing. The early stages of the process, beginning in January, required the seniors to begin thinking about what they wanted to do in June. This is no easy task when you are focused on AP tests, college applications, weekend jobs and sports practices. A little creativity and a lot of introspection are necessary to come up with a proposal. This is presented formally to a committee of faculty who approve the idea. Next comes the difficult lesson of “finding a job” where the students are applying themselves to selling their skills and the project itself to possible sponsors. All internships are unpaid and only a few charitable projects are accepted. For those creating the cookbooks, for example, fundraising was necessary to purchase supplies. Another useful skill for later in life indeed.

As the actual internship or project is happening, students keep a journal of their experiences and collect data for their final presentation. The SEE Fair is held at the school, open to the public in the evening, and showcases all of the energy and creativity culminating from six months of toil. In light of the current dismal job climate, the kids are not just learning to do a little work, they are learning the very important skills of creative networking and truly thinking outside of the box. I know it is the hope of the school, and mine too, that such wonderful opportunities as the SEE project will help this class of 2012 navigate the rough seas ahead. They will go out into the world already having experienced a few things, met a few folks, and sweated a few deadlines. They will not be surprised by traffic slowing their way to a meeting at a specified time and they will know how to behave in a business meeting. They will have confidence when asking for an opportunity, a sale, a favor. They will know to wear a tie or sneakers, as the situation demands. They will have respect for their supervisors, co-workers and themselves. Most of all, I think these kids will emerge from their Senior Enrichment Experiences with a terrific sense of accomplishment.

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