Back-to-school is coming soon for many of us, and when that first day arrives, many of us will greet our students with this question: “Did you have a great summer?” We might ask our students to write, draw, or otherwise compare with other students their summer “adventures.”
What are we assuming when we ask students about their “great” summers?
When we set up this dichotomy - great or not great - for our students, we’re assuming that students are supposed to enjoy the “freedom” of summer. We imply that summer has a certain value: it’s supposed to be great. For many of our students, the massive change in routine means many different things. We would do well to check our assumptions about what summer looks like and feels like, instead of what we think it should look like or feel like.
This summer, your students are experiencing a wide variety of things. Some of these may include:
- Positive enrichment activities, like camp or classes
- Time away from family
- Time with family - which may be supportive or may increase stress and conflict
- Homelessness or housing instability
- Work (for experience, for money to support others, for money for oneself)
- Taking care of siblings or children
- Positive outdoor activities
- Trauma or damaging experiences
- Less physical activity
- More physical activity
- Hunger without the regularity of school meals
- Loneliness or depression
- Increase substance use
- Increased or decreased supervision from guardians
- Spending time with friends
- Receiving mental health or other support services
- A break/disruption from mental health or other support services
- Summer school or credit recovery
- Learning something new
- Being more engaged in activities than during school year
- Changes in friendships or relationships since the end of the school year
- Connections (or lack thereof) over social media
When we ask students “did you have a great summer?”, we project our own feelings about summer onto them. Summer isn’t great for everyone, so we can be more neutral by asking students “what’s new?”, “how are things lately?”, or simply telling our students how glad we are to see them.
What else might your students be experiencing this summer? What are your best ways of welcoming your students back to school in ways that support them, no matter what their summer looked or felt like?
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.