|As part of Reading’s summer offerings last week, counselor Siobhan O’Brien, 21 (left photo), leads an arts and crafts activity. At right, campers and counselors work on their soccer skills. The programs carry a fee, and residency is not required. (Photos by Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)|
Making sure there’s something to do
The first few days of summer vacation are filled with a sense of euphoria. No school, no tests, no homework.
That’s for the students. For parents of children who are now out of school, thoughts quickly turn to “What do we do with them all summer?”
That’s where local parks and recreation departments come to the rescue, with sports, arts and crafts, field trips, and other supervised activities to help keep youths busy and happy.
Getting ready for the summer buzz can be a challenge to communities faced with budget constraints, said John Feudo, Reading’s recreation administrator.
“Actually the planning is almost as tough as the coordinating and carrying out of a program,” Feudo said. “We’re running around like crazy. We’ve only got a staff of four here for the summer so we’re in every direction.”
Reading’s summer programs went into full swing Monday and continue for nine weeks. Most of the offerings are geared for kids entering kindergarten up through eighth grade, depending on the program, Feudo said.
In addition to the sports and activities it usually offers each summer, Reading also is hosting a program called “Wicked Cool Med School” this year.
“It’s geared to kind of simulate what kids would do in med school,” Feudo said. “And it’s actually doing very well with numbers. So I think people are responding nicely to it.”
Reading’s programs are not restricted to residents, and there is a fee for activities. For example, camp is $139 per week (for a full list of activities and fees, go to www.readingrec.com.)
“The summer programs are all funded through the receipts that we receive from people signing up,” Feudo said. “So they’re kind of self-supporting.”
But that’s not the case in some communities, such as Lynn and Lowell, where there is no cost to show up at a park and have supervised fun.
Lynn will staff 10 city playgrounds from July 9 to Aug. 10, with instructors guiding sports, arts and crafts activities, field trips, and entertainment, said Lisa Nerich, assistant superintendent of parks and playgrounds. Fees are charged only for field trips.
“And then lunch will be provided during the park hours that will be designated at 11:30. Our park program is available for children 6 years and older. And we’ll have clinics, a summer evening basketball league, and a lot of other events going on all summer,” Nerich added.
All are welcome at Lowell’s parks. “We want to let people know that we don’t charge. It’s free of charge,” said Tom Bellegarde, the city’s commissioner of parks and recreation. “We’re doing an expanded summer this year, and we’re hoping to get the funding to do a whole host of recreational activities beginning right after the first of July.”
Bellegarde noted that while last year’s concentration was on water-based activities and arts and crafts, this summer there will be more programs at an additional 13 sites in the city (for a full list, go to the parks department’s page on the city’s website, www.lowellma.gov).
“We got something for everybody, tiny tots right up through teenagers,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is look at creating these opportunities like back in the old days where you could actually leave your house, walk down to a park, and have organized recreation. This could be if you’re into sports, or you can still do some arts and crafts, you can play box hockey, and also passive recreation. We’re looking at trying to bring back some of the board games, things that used to be staples back in the day.”
Lowell will hire more than 50 high school students to work on these programs, Bellegarde said. “We want to try to give kids something to do, and we are targeting those high school-age kids, not only to join up with us and be a part of what we’re doing, but also to be empowered and employed in what we’re doing,” said Bellegarde. “At the same time getting them out of the house and getting them actively involved in something positive.
“We think it’s important to keep idle people busy and we found it keeps people out of trouble, keeps kids from hanging around downtown. This will pull people from all of that into where they belong and that’s the parks.”
Malden will offer programs for students entering grades 1 through 8 at the city’s three middle schools through the Partnership for Community Schools in Malden (www.maldencommunityschools.org).
A camp-type program is offered for students entering grades 1 through 5, with a mix of recreational activities, arts and crafts, and academics, said Karen Steele, the partnership’s director. “We’ll focus on reading, written communication, and math, and so it’s kind of a nice mix each day for all of those activities,” said Steele, who noted the same type of program also is available for students who will be entering grades 6-8 in the fall.
The fees for the Malden programs vary from $36 a day or $20 a half-day for the elementary school program to $25 for an entire summer of the middle school program. The difference in price is because the middle school program is subsidized by a grant from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Steele said.
The Malden program is not limited to city residents, but financial aid for qualified families of younger students is.
“We all know about summer learning loss and keeping kids in a kind of structured environment better prepares them for the next school year,” said Steele. “Helping build on their skills over the summer in a more relaxed, fun way really helps them make the connections between what they’ve learned during the school year and what they’re going to learn during the summer. It helps them make friends and a lot of kids live on streets where there aren’t any other kids. So they can make new friends and do fun stuff and stay safe.”
Maureen Mullen can be reached at mullen email@example.com.