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Expanding summer programs helps kids and parents [Commentary]

Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks has an excellent summer program with far better options than other government and privately operated camps in the region. Nonetheless, there are missed opportunities where the department can provide an exceptional service for children and parents, while providing experiences of a lifetime that create future leaders.

The greatest missed opportunity for the department's summer program is limited scheduling for the most creative and educational programs. Its "2014 Summer Camp Guide" shows that camps exploring foreign languages, computer robotics and making iPhone apps are only offered one or two weeks over the entire summer. While having a two-week experience is wonderful exposure, offering those programs throughout the summer would have a greater benefit that provides priceless opportunities to focus on new skills while building confidence and self-esteem.

"Many people from Howard County commute to Baltimore or DC," says Howard County Housing's "Ten Reasons to Relocate to Howard County." However, many programs do not extend through the work day and are not viable options for commuting parents. The most innovative camps are half-day. Even the department's full-day camps fall short of a work day by covering only six to eight hours. Commuting parents need nine to 10 hours of camp to accommodate travel and work hours. Extended day options are available for few programs. However, after paying the additional expense of summer camp, lunch and snacks, the added cost to prolong the day is heavy burden for many working families.

Despite some shortcomings, the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks' academic, creative and logic focused opportunities are praiseworthy. Its selection of personal development, STEM and fine art options keep children intellectually stimulated and are laudable supplements to Howard County Public School System's limited and selective summer options.

Studies prove summer is a time of academic loss for children. "On average, students lose approximately 2.6 months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months," says Reading is Fundamental, a U.S. literacy nonprofit. "Studies reveal that the greatest areas of summer loss for all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, are in factual or procedural knowledge." The Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks' inclusion of learning-based programs helps many children return to school ready to learn.

Academic and creative program options also assist teachers by reducing time spent on review early in the school year. A National Summer Learning Association survey of 500 teachers asserts, "66 percent of teachers said it takes them at least [three to four] weeks to re-teach the previous year's skills at the beginning of a new school year. Of those, more than a third said it takes them [five] weeks or more."

Notwithstanding the large number of registrants, participation does not measure summer program success. Summer programs have a built-in market. Working parents depend on summer programs to continue working throughout the summer. Data from a 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics report affirms 59 percent of American families have two working parents. A 2013 U.S. Census Bureau report declares 14.4 percent of American families are single parent households.

Pete Pichaske's article in the Howard County Times ("Summer camps big business in Howard County," July 25) implies that enrolling children from out-of-state is evidence of a successful program. The home state of the child is not an indicator of success. Many families send children to visit wealthier relatives during the summer. Those visits help struggling families reduce expenses by transferring dependence on summer camp to a relative.

As a Howard County parent, I am happy to send my daughter to Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks summer programs. The department's programs are far better than the privately operated camps attended in past summers. Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement. Expanding offerings and schedules of intellectually stimulating programs would vastly enhance the program and turn it into a model that other regions could emulate.

Syreeta Swann is a student in American University's Master's in Strategic Communications Program and a Howard County parent. Her email is ss0215b@american.edu.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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