Public pools will be shuttered, day camps are canceled, and summer jobs have dried up. How will New York’s students fill July and August?
With the money she was set to earn this summer as a camp counselor in New York City, 16-year-old Troy Beecham was finally going to be able to pay for her own school supplies in the fall, as well as chip in on groceries and rent. Though Troy’s father is an essential worker, money has been tight, and the extra cash would have eased some of their financial stress.
Most summer programs were closed after the spread of the coronavirus in America (as well as in New York as you can see in this article in The New York Times.)
“I don’t know what we’re going to do, or where we’re going to go,” LaToya said, speaking for New York City’s 1.1 million public school students, the vast majority of whom are poor. “Summer is what you work for, you work for it the whole year.”
The collapse of the city’s summer offerings means that New York’s children will have to endure boredom, isolation and loss of learning beyond just the academic year. And continued suffering for the city’s most vulnerable children — including poor and homeless children and students with disabilities — is inevitable. Those students have already borne the worst effects of the extremely difficult citywide transition to online learning, but remote classes at least offered children some daily structure.
“I’m going to have to find something to keep myself busy, and that’s going to be quite difficult,” said LaToya, who lives with her father in one bedroom of a Bronx apartment they share with a few other families they barely know.
Children like LaToya rely on oases in summer: New York City’s pools, beaches and parks are typically filled with families trying to find respite on humid days, and subway cars are often crowded with students enrolled in free summer camps heading to air-conditioned museums.
But with so many of the city’s usual summer activities called off or up in the air, there will be few such havens this July and August.
Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced that city pools will not open this summer, and a similar decision on beaches may not be far behind. Children will likely flock to parks on hot days, making social distancing more difficult.
The usual roster of city-funded camps will not happen. The summer youth employment program, which typically enrolls about 75,000 low-income students each year, is canceled.
For children who have fallen far behind academically, it is not yet clear what summer school will look like, since the Department of Education is currently determining how grading and promotion will be handled during remote learning.
Though education officials said the city will offer some virtual learning options through the summer, teachers are still scheduled to begin their summer break at the end of June. Top officials at the United Federation of Teachers indicated that the powerful union would push back vigorously against any attempt to continue the school year online through the summer.
Mr. de Blasio has said the city cannot plan to reopen any schools earlier than September, spelling more uncertainty for children with advanced special needs who typically attend school year-round. And it is unknown when public libraries, where students can study for the SATs and catch up on summer reading assignments, will reopen.
“The things that we would normally plan for the summer we cannot guarantee. We only at this point, I think, can truly plan on the reopening of schools in the beginning of September,” the mayor said last week. “That’s where our energy is going, actually start the schools up right.”
Mr. de Blasio said Wednesday that his administration was working on a “summer plan” to try to keep New Yorkers, including students, occupied in the coming months.
Mr. de Blasio has said the enormous reductions to summer programs were not only necessary for safety but were also part of a painful yet necessary slew of budget cuts aimed at keeping the city afloat as it beats back the virus. The slashing of nearly all summer programs will save the city about $185 million, and closing pools and cutting some funding for parks will save about $17 million.
“We know many of the restrictions put in place to protect the health and safety of New Yorkers are causing unique disruptions in the lives of our kids, especially those in low income communities,” said Jane Meyer, a spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio.
“This summer will be unlike anything our city has ever experienced before, and we are putting plans in place to ensure all our children are safe and have opportunities for enrichment.”
Some of the emergency measures already established in schools by the city are set to continue. The city will continue to provide meals to hungry children and their families, though it is unclear whether the food will continue to be served through the 400 school buildings that are currently being used as meal distribution centers. The 165 child care centers for young children and the children of essential workers are also set to remain open until school resumes.
But that is not enough for many social service providers and students who said they were alarmed by the severity of the cuts, and particularly about the loss of the youth employment program.
“As any parent would agree, closing schools doesn’t mean we don’t need programming, it means that we need programming even more urgently,” said Michelle Jackson, the acting director of the Human Services Council, which represents social service nonprofits.
Ms. Jackson said that some nonprofits had been forced to lay off staff members who were overseeing the program. Several providers said they believed it would still be possible to run the program remotely, with creative alternatives that would still allow teenagers to earn money — and help the city in a time of crisis.
Eric Weingartner, C.E.O. of The Door, a social service agency that serves at-risk children, said teenagers can make as much as $3,000 a summer through the employment program.
Asked what vulnerable children will do this summer in New York City, Mr. Weingartner said, “I have absolutely no idea.”
Sue Najm, a 17-year-old high school student in Brooklyn, said she could not imagine a summer with no job and no fun. She was hoping to be part of the summer youth employment program, ideally working in policy or law.
“We are already in limbo, sitting in our homes, consumed by social media,” she said. “Summer was the thing that we are all waiting for.”
Asked what she was planning for July and August, Sue paused and said she didn’t know anymore: “It’s so hard to think about.”