Richmond Public Schools’ Teachers’ Guide to a Productive Summer
As the school year comes to an end, students and teachers alike anticipate the start of the best time of year: summer break. It’s truly a time where the year’s accomplishments are celebrated, mainly by mentally checking out until fall begins and a new year commences. But what about those weeks in-between the final school bell and the sound of the first morning announcements of the new year? So often, students check out, doing nothing to keep their minds fresh in preparation for the next step in their academic career. The truth is, though, that in order to keep our students’ minds sharp throughout the summer, both parents and students share a responsibility to keep their minds engaged and create productive habits.
Ryan James and VanNeisha Johnson, teachers at Richmond’s Lucille Brown Middle School, stress the importance of making summer break one of productivity. For them, it’s not about unplugging and disconnecting from everything school-related, but rather exploring their passions, engaging their mind, and developing life skills. And they fully understand the role of the parent or guardian in the student’s lives, encouraging all parties to work together as they prepare for the new milestone that begins come fall. So, how can students enjoy their summer break while also equipping themselves with tools to succeed?
First, read, read, read! “Even if it’s not your favorite pastime, you can make reading more enjoyable by finding books that pique your interests,” suggests Johnson. Many students claim to “hate reading” because it’s usually mandatory, and the topics aren’t as engaging. But try taking the time to explore topics that interest you, whether it’s science-fiction or your favorite public figure’s autobiography. Enjoy the freedom that comes with getting lost in a book, and you’ll see how far your imagination is stretched and how sharp your mind is when the new school year starts.
“Read something motivational,” encourages James. “There are so many books out there that speak to your personal interests and can even help you map out the right career path for you. I tell my students all the time to start new hobbies, but I challenge myself and all adults to do the same, and that hobby for me is reading.”
In that same vein of hobbies, Johnson encourages students to try the free classes offered at local libraries and recreation centers. What you’ll find are sewing, dance, yoga, and jewelry classes, just to name a few. You name it, you can guarantee there’s a center that offers it, and you’ll not only end your summer with a new set of skills, but the friendships you’ll make are priceless.
In addition to reading and picking up new hobbies, James stresses the importance of using this free time to map out your future. Grade school is the foundation, sure, but there are so many other milestones we all aspire to reach that require the proper guidance.
“Find a mentor,” he advises. “Especially when it comes to researching careers and/or college options. Many of my students will be first-generation college students, and although they say they want to go to college, they have almost no idea of what the process entails. Find a mentor who will help you through it; seek out someone who can be a positive force who’ll guide you as you make major life decisions.”
Whether you’re heading straight to college or entering into the workforce, use the summer months to set yourself up for
the future you want. If your plan is a community college or four-year institution, focus on your GPA. The grades and study habits you create in high school will undoubtedly help or hurt you as you move on to the next phase of your education. As dreadful as it sounds, consider the possibility of attending summer school. VanNeisha Johnson enthusiastically encourages students to enroll if they’re looking to get ahead.
“By taking summer school courses, you’re able to get ahead as you prepare for the year to come,” she says. “Not only that, but you’ll have the chance to improve your GPA, which is especially important if college is in your near future. Turn your weaknesses into strengths! And look on the bright side: summer school is only one month long; in that time, you’ll advance, improve, and set yourself up to be in a better position for the upcoming year.”
For those entering into the workforce, get a head-start on your professional career by getting—or creating—a summer job. Not only will you earn extra money to keep in your pockets, but you’ll also develop real life skills that will set you up for a promising future. Skills like professionalism, social interactions, respect, and responsibility aren’t inherent. They’re taught, and those skills get stronger and become second-nature with practice. A summer job allows you to take inventory of which interests you have and help you hone your abilities.
Johnson suggests taking advantage of the offers available through Richmond City. The city offers summer jobs to youth through the Mayor’s Youth Academy, where you’re able to work as a camp counselor. Other programs, such as Church Hill Activities & Tutoring (CHAT) also hire young adults. This also teaches financial independence and money management, skills we often learn far too late in life. If you don’t have a job, Johnson suggests creating one yourself.
“If you’re too young to be hired by a company, create a job!” Johnson exclaims. “Babysitting, lawn care, housework…there are so many options for those looking to make money over the summer. Instead of spending your time on social media for free, look into creating and managing pages for local small businesses. Use the skills you already have to pay yourself.”
James, though he sees the benefits Johnson lists above, believes that a summer job helps keeps our youth honest, off the streets, and out of trouble.
“Find a part-time job,” he advises. “Chick Fil A, for example, hires at 14. With a part-time job, you’re not only getting set up for adulthood with the added level of responsibility, but it keeps you out the streets.”
Unfortunately, a common problem we’re seeing in our communities is the amount of youth who engage with the wrong crowds and causing themselves and others irreparable damage. We can all work together to help our youth see the options available so that they’re using their summer breaks to be constructive.
“Summer break is 10 to 12 weeks, but life is long,” explains James. “Be aware and cautious of the decisions you make. Too many people live for the moment without thinking about how their actions have a reaction and/or consequence. Summer’s nice, but before you know it, you’re back in school. Do you really want the decisions you make in the summer to have negative impacts on your future?”
This is where the mentors, positive friendships, and a strong grasp on future aspirations lie. It’s that foundation that keeps our youth grounded and on the right path.
Lastly, Johnson encourages students to use the summer break to make what she calls “epic memories.” Create a bucket list, and do things you’ll be proud of when reflecting back on the past 10 weeks.
“Use the first week of summer to relax and relish in the success of the school year, but also compile a list of things you want to complete before summer’s over” she says. “Volunteer, camp out in your yard, try new recipes, perform Random Acts of Kindness, attend a concert—the possibilities are endless! Whatever you do, do something worth remembering. When you do summer right, the memories—and the effects—will be wonderful and long-lasting.