Transitioning into Summer Months
By: Dr. Raymond Heipp
The days are getting longer, and the weather is getting warmer. May brings us into a unique transitional time for all individuals. We are experiencing the growth of plants and blooming of flowers while moving from spring into summer. We are also having our students move from one year of their academic lives into the summer months which can bring a sudden change in routines which might not always be fun.
As our students get excited for the summer months, we want them to be as prepared as possible for the differences they may be experiencing. For some of our students, this change might be minimal. They might simply be shifting into summer programs in the same building and with the same teachers and aides. If this is the case with your students, you want to incorporate those activities that will permit them to adjust to whatever subtle changes the summer program might bring; like trips to the gym or art class on different days. This transitioning can actually start during the last few weeks of the formal academic year in order to make the change in routine less severe and disruptive.
For other students, they might be transitioning into summer programs where their focus might not be on academics, but on workplace skills or other life skills. One of the best strategies for assisting in this type of transition is to use skills which they have practiced over the course of the year as the basis for their new routines. Hence the skills are a behavior which has already been learned and the focus can be on when and where those skills are being applied. Some of our students might become involved in summer programs which follow-up on school-based programs in which they have already been involved.
Dmitry Libman of the Yonkers Schools recently shared with me the recycling program for students in the Autism program at Roosevelt High School. His description and the accolades attributed to this group are here in his own words:
"We have students in our Roosevelt Highschool program leading the charge in the recycling efforts. With Earth day just "days" away, I wanted to share with you that our capable students stand to not only learn the necessary skills to move forward but also to care and give back to the Yonkers community. Our students recycle paper, plastics and aluminum and work to beautify the Roosevelt campus and Yonkers via the Untemier Gardens initiative. The Roosevelt campus is proud to be considered "Yonkers Cleanest."
Just recently, one of our students in the program was recognized by the mayor for outstanding efforts in dealing with Climate change and recycling as a whole. A Ceremony is to come in May!"
The amazing life and workplace skills these students have learned can tie into so many things. These students could transition into other recycling or clean-up efforts in the area. This is just one example of programs throughout the country that have so much potential to help students move into summer programs or even forms of summer work.
Another example I have seen over the last few years occurred in a local school district here in Ohio where students interviewed and joined a “company” focused on cleaning and yard care. These students took their knowledge of maintaining schedules and some of the heavy work they did during the academic year and translated that into showing up for work daily, raking leaves, pulling out weeds from garden beds, cutting lawns with a lawn mower (under supervision), and power-washing sidewalks and driveways. Skills like these as well as the recycling skills like sorting and collecting can lead to excellent job skills.
Other summer programs may also have a focus on life skills for the house or apartment. Several districts have summer programs where students have the opportunity to come in to school and learn about baking and cooking, while making products which can be sold. These students are learning skills which can both be used to take care of themselves as well as job-related skills for life beyond the school walls.
The most difficult transition comes into play when the students are moving into an unstructured summer. The transition skills which are going to play the largest role here will be those which help to train behaviors of self-regulation. Some of these behaviors would begin with breathing to maintain a sense of calm or a lessening of anxiety. Our students need to practice these breathing techniques so that the behavior becomes natural to them. Once these behaviors are established, then we can look at working on having the students begin to recognize for themselves when they need to use them. These breathing techniques are good for use throughout all times of the year.
We also want to have suggestions ready for parents and guardians for ways to maintain some semblance of routine during the summer months. Think about our own lives for a moment. How easy is it when on vacation to move away from waking up at a certain time for work and, because we don’t have that set wake up time, to stay up late? Think about the difficulty that creates for us when it is time to go back to work. Breaking academic year routines creates even more disruption for our students. Look at having an evening where parents and guardians can join you at the school for a presentation with handouts on the creation of positive summer routines.
Transitioning is not an easy process for individuals. We must be aware that these transitions occur on a regular basis, and we should not simply presume that transitioning efforts should only be focused on students moving from one building to another or out of the schools altogether. The more we can practice strategies around all types of transition, the stronger the individualized skills can become for the students. Our support should include parents and guardians as well so that everyone is working with the same outcomes in mind.
As you transition into the summer, please be sure to build in time for yourself and your own recharging! When you can use the summer as a natural transition between academic years, you strengthen the difference you are able to make to everyone! Enjoy the summer months and recognize that you deserve some time for yourself!