George Lucas Educational Foundation
Administration & Leadership

The Power of Summer Wellness Checks

A trauma-informed approach to communication when school is out of session is important for students who may be experiencing difficulties.

May 14, 2024
Valerii Apetroaiei / iStock

It’s summertime, and it feels good—really good! Ten months of the alarm clock going off at 6 a.m., lunch prep, laundry, and rounding up all the troops for the daily trek off to school are over, at least for the next few weeks. There’s no shame in hitting the snooze button. It’s your time. You’ve worked hard, and you deserve the slower pace and some good ol’ R & R.

Many folks view summer as paid time off for educators. However, summer is actually an essential recovery period for educators. The work we do in schools is demanding in every way, especially on an emotional scale. Serving as caregivers for students, especially those who have experienced trauma, often affects our own personal lives and mental health. We can experience compassion fatigue and exhaustion. Educators need time off to recuperate to come back refreshed and ready for the next round of the school year.

Summer Reality for Some Students

While many of us celebrate summer break, the off-season is not always as delightful for some of our students. Specifically, being at home for the summer may cause a sense of uneasiness and instability for students who find school to be a safe haven from challenges at home. Research indicates that more than four in 10 parents living in areas of concentrated poverty (41 percent) report that their child took part in a summer learning program, a rate that is eight percentage points higher than the national average (33 percent), which shows that these resources are valued. The demand for more summer programming is still largely unmet within communities of poverty. Furthermore, students may have less access to adequate nutrition and meals when school isn’t in session.

Thirty-nine percent of all children in the United States experience at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE) before they are 18 years old. During the summer and at any time of the year, really, they may endure poverty, abuse, neglect, living with an adult who has a mental illness, or more. These traumatic experiences, whether a onetime or recurring event, can have a debilitating impact upon youth and their development well into adulthood, especially when accumulating ACEs are compounded throughout their young lives.

Establish a Summer Team

Positive relationships with caring adults can have a remedying impact for youth trauma. During summer break, 12-month school employees (administrators, support staff in clerical positions) can help continue and deepen connections with students and families through direct outreach, affirmations, encouragement, and check-ins.

We learned a lot during the Covid-19 global pandemic, but perhaps one of the most valuable lessons was related to the importance of staying connected—albeit from a distance. When we abruptly closed schools in March 2020, our school district directed us to conduct remote wellness checks with our students. Now we do these checks both remotely via phone or text and also in person within our local school neighborhood. Our cadence is to check in on a biweekly basis at a minimum. This practice is now institutionalized within our school, and we see the benefits.

Make (Literal) Summer Sunshine Calls

When we enrolled third grader James at our school last summer, his mom reported that he had an individualized education program (IEP) and a tendency to take off. She indicated that she had received a call from his previous school almost every day, due to his behavior. I thanked his mom for her transparency and shared our commitment to working together on his behalf. Obviously, this information raised concerns, and I knew we needed to take action to embrace this child early and with lots of love. I asked members of our summer team to begin calling James and his mom regularly before the school year began. What does he like to do? Favorite sports? Food? What is he looking forward to as a third grader at a new school?

Our team began to establish a relationship with the student and the family before he even walked through the door for his first day of school. Of course, we had some good and not-so-good days during the year, but overall the impact of this proactive outreach was astounding. James learned how to self-regulate and express his feelings, and he participated in extracurricular activities, which he really enjoyed at the school. His mom also raves about our partnership and how much he has grown this year. 

Quick tip: Keep a running log of your summer wellness check-ins, and share the responsibility for contacting families with your 12-month summer team. If you’re unable to reach a family with a phone call, send a “thinking of you” text message or email.

Use Summer Programs for Increased Visibility

We ought to monitor our expectation that students and families will always come to us at school. We need to visit and interact with our students and families in the community as well.

Our summer team has dropped off snacks and spent time with students at a local camp. Our basketball coaches conducted skills training for students in the neighborhood at a local park. The options are limitless as you explore what would have the greatest impact for your students and families.

Quick tip: Become a partner with a local camp or program near your school over the summer. You can use the infrastructure and schedule of their program to coordinate your team’s visit and connect with students. Leverage your relationship with your partner organizations or parent-teacher associations for donations you can distribute to those in need within your school community.

Ask and Be Open to How You Can Help

The purpose of implementing summer wellness checks is to strengthen and maintain the continuity of trusting relationships. Trust is established by delivering on promises and showing genuine interest. Think about what resources you have available at the school over the summer. Extra books for summer reading? A school pantry of nonperishable food items? Find out what support families are really looking for, as needs are very diverse and unique. Sometimes families may need tangible materials, other times just a listening ear.

Quick tip: Integrate asking what families may need into your summer check-in dialogues. Have a community resource sheet at the ready for families and students. You can also offer families ideas for engaging their children over the summer months as an extension to support their academic development and overall well-being (museums to visit, books to read, journal prompts, etc.).

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  • Administration & Leadership
  • Family Engagement
  • Student Wellness
  • Trauma-Informed Practices

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