Op-Ed | What Summer Rising is doing for my kids and I

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Last April, when my two youngest children—Benjamin, 6, and Isabella, 9—returned to in-person learning at P.S. 183 in Manhattan, they actually cried tears of joy. They were so excited to be back with their friends and teachers, and they knew they would learn more in school than they could remotely on their devices at home. 

So when I began to hear about the City’s plans to create an all-day, universal summer program called “Summer Rising” beginning in July, I learned all I could about it, and then signed them up. It made so much sense because my kids were just getting into the groove of being back in school, and now they would have the chance to keep that momentum going in ways that would be fun, safe, and academically supportive. 

Although P.S. 183 wasn’t offering Summer Rising due to planned construction, we were able to enroll Benjamin and Isabella at nearby P.S. 158. As luck would have it, their P.S. 183 principal is actually head of their Summer Rising academics, and they also know many of their classmates. 

Summer Rising days are long ones—in a good way! The program runs from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays, which is great for all of us parents who have full-time jobs.  

When they first arrive, the kids have a nutritious breakfast that they devour. Then at 8:30there are specific exercises that focus on subjects like language skills or writing. Around 9:00 they will have a group lesson in music, movement, or art, followed by some combination of math, literacy, and science. Later they may do a deep exploration of a certain subject. This part is a household favorite, because Isabella had the opportunity to be the teacher for a reading lesson! She’s big on performing in front of others so she really loved that! 

The learning has been very engaging, including learning about other cultures, finding out how ecosystems work, and different kinds of applied science activities. Isabella has found math challenging in the past, but says she has been picking things up faster this summer because they have been teaching her concepts through games she enjoys. 

In the afternoons, the program is turned over to the community-based-organization Child Study Center, which oversees outdoor sports like volleyball, basketball, and Hula Hoop contests, as well as other activities like a carnival and visits to the ice cream truck. And I know Summer Rising programs have made great use of the city’s museums, parks and other resources for amazing field trips. 

I know that many families are understandably concerned about health and safety both this summer and in the fall. All I can say is that at our children’s Summer Rising program, everyone is extremely vigilant about following protocols like masking and distancing. My Benjamin told me that there was a little boy in his class who kept taking off his mask. Their teacher sat down with the boy and talked about how important it is to keep it on because we are part of a community and we take care of each other. That worked, so I am very confident that the grown-ups are really on top of health and safety. 

At the end of the long day, both Benjamin and Isabella come home with smiles on their faces and lots to say, although Benjamin usually has a snack and then falls asleep not long after he gets home. There’s no question that Summer Rising is doing so much to help them hit the ground running in the fall. By keeping our kids with their peers and teachers after a choppy remote learning experience last year, they won’t be starting from scratch in September, as they otherwise might have been. 

One other thing that I love about Summer Rising is the fact that it’s universal: every student in New York City schools can attend regardless of income level, grades, or anything else.  That in and of itself builds community. I was speaking to parents who can afford an expensive, fancy camp out of state, but they enrolled their kids here because they really wanted the academic support provided under Summer Rising. So I really think we should build on that inclusive aspect and keep Summer Rising around permanently, so that all children in the future can experience what my kids have this summer. 

Dillonna C. Lewis is a public school parent and co-executive director of the Welfare Rights Initiative at Hunter College 

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