Tuesday, June 04, 2013

But Then What Would Happen To Summer?

For me, today is the first day of summer. The forecast for this week is sunny skies with mild temperatures and a light breeze. Although the chamber of commerce kind of weather is only secondary to the fact that this is the first day of the 2013 Woodland Park Summer Program.

First of all, let me say that it tickles me that we call it the Woodland Park Summer Program, just as our three other schools are named Woodland Park Pre-3's Cooperative Preschool, Woodland Park 3-5's Cooperative Preschool, and Woodland Park 5's Cooperative Preschool, utilitarian names that came into being as part of the process of filing incorporation papers with the state. We needed names and the people doing the work just stuck these descriptive titles in there as placeholders, I think, with the idea that someday we'd come up with something clever or cute.

We're no longer located near the Woodland Park Zoo, which is our namesake, but rather down the hill in Fremont, The Center of the Universe, home of The Troll. The only time we, as a community, ever talked about our name during my time here, was when we made our move two years ago. Most of us assumed that we were going to relabel ourselves to reflect our new location. I openly lobbied for Center of the Universe Cooperative Preschool, but one family spoke up at a parent meeting for remaining Woodland Park. Two of their children had already spent three years each here and a third had just been born and they asked that we'd consider not changing the name. It was powerful, from the heart testimony that ended the conversation on the spot and the subject hasn't been on a meeting agenda since.

The Woodland Park Summer Program is just what it sounds like. We're not "Dinosaur Camp" or "Pirates & Princesses," we're just who we are except outside only and during the summer. I'm particularly proud of the Summer Program because it's the first school we made all on our own, and by that I mean during my 12 year tenure here, because certainly there was a group of parents who started our original schools back in the 70's. Most of the cooperative preschools in North Seattle are affiliated with North Seattle Community College's parent education program. When we had the idea for some sort of summer camp, it came on the heels of us having built our first outdoor classroom, and we were excited to keep using it. Unfortunately, the collage wasn't able to support us, which might have been the death knell, but after checking into things like insurance and hiring parent educators we decided we could just go it alone. It was the model we turned to for starting our 5's program, which just completed it's inaugural year, when the college wasn't able to make a decision fast enough for us.

While the 5's class now operates under the auspices of NSCC, the Summer Program remains an entity unto itself, run with a slight renegade air, featuring parent meetings at trivia nights, bowling allies, and bars. Our other schools must maintain a certain amount of rigor considering that parents are receiving college credit, but since school's out for summer, that's been replaced by a sandals and short pants efficiency. It feels as homemade as street stand lemonade.

There's an edge of devil-may-care wildness, a little more risk-taking and experimentation, lots of water, mud, plants, bugs, and sand between our toes -- and I'm talking about the adults, because that's how the kids always do it at Woodland Park. We mix up the ages 2-6, with some older alumni joining us this year as "play mentors," 7-9 year-olds who will have the responsibility of role modeling, inspiring, and supporting the parent-teachers. Every day feels like some sort of family reunion picnic. If only we fired up the grill . . .

By the end of summer, when we're fully in our rhythm, even when the weather stays stubbornly 64 degrees and gray for much of the time, we begin to bemoan that it has to come to an end and ask why the rest of the year at Woodland Park can't be like this. Could it be? I think so, but then what would happen to summer?

I'm sad for the children whose parents have bought into the BS about "academic regression" during the summer months. Especially those who advocate for longer school days and the outright elimination of summer. Who cares? If you forget something in three months then you really didn't learn it anyway. Besides, that's what summer is for, to fill our heads with more important stuff; to remind ourselves of the raw joy of being carefree; to use our noses on flowers instead of grindstones; to lift our faces up to the sun, to shed our cloths, to smell of sunscreen, and to do the things we do when no one is telling us what to do.

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Anonymous said...

I"m confused by your last paragraph - if you are "sad for the children whose parents have bought into the BS about "academic regression" during the summer months" then why do you have a summer program?

Teacher Tom said...

We have a play-based curriculum, Anon, not an academic one, so for the kids in our community, "summer" is year-round. This post is really more about how the parents in our community feel and then this paragraph was just an add-on expressing pity for those kids in traditional schools aren't even getting their summers any more.

Amanda Mc said...

This up coming year is my last year at home with my pre preschooler. Both my boys will be in school full time and I will be back to work. I dread what will become of my summer. I won't have endless days of dirty garden hands and messy watermelon faces to wipe.

I hope that while I toil away, waiting for the work day to end that my children will be blasting the days away in a playful summer program such as this.