Make a Break

Make a Break

T his school year wasn’t easy. There were “distractions” to overcome, as they say to kids taking Mastery Tests. School was called off for days on end this year, on account of torrential rains, heavy winds and a three-foot snowfall.

When the new school year begins in the fall, the City will be weeks away from voting in a new mayor, who will assume the reins after ten terms of Mayor John DeStefano Jr. By then there may already be a new Superintendent of Schools to replace the newly retired Dr. Reginald Mayo.

For the last several years, DeStefano has presided over an overhaul of the educational system which involved the building of dozens of new school buildings, alliances with charter schools such as Amistad and negotiations with teachers unions progressive enough that the agreements were publicly praised by no less a reformer than President Barack Obama. The developments were so profound that his educational initiatives should form a large part of DeStefano’s legacy as mayor.

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Education was the crux of an entire debate last week among the candidates who are running to succeed DeStefano as Mayor. Comprehensive coverage of that event, during which a variety of views were expressed regarding the future of public education in the city, was provided by the New Haven Independent.

More charter schools, or fewer of them? More standardized testing, or less? Fresh leadership or those with prior experience in this system? Do kids get enough recess and downtime? Are there enough after-school programs and learning alternatives?

The answers aren’t limited to pop quizzes at mayoral debates. They involve input from countless professionals, from teachers to administrators to statisticians to philosophers.

For now, however, those who’ve been inundated with school concerns almost daily since September can breathe a sigh of relief. It’s summer break. Class isn’t back in session until Tuesday, September 3. That’s nearly 50 weekdays for kids to spend more or less as they choose. Some may in fact spend it reading, writing, learning technology and other subjects associated with school, but on their own terms.

For most public school students in New Haven, the school year ended yesterday (Tuesday, June 25) with the last of four consecutive half-days. Many schools used those days for parties, video screenings, field days, game days and other end-of-year celebrations. While the lower grades were simply marking the end of the spring term, New Haven’s high schools were holding their graduation ceremonies. Hillhouse High School’s graduation, for example, was at the end of last week. Career High School’s was just this past Monday.

School is out for summer, as erstwhile Connecticut resident Alice Cooper famously sings, yet New Haven is looking out for its youthful residents year-round. City-run summer camps include “Nature Pals,” “Eco Adventure,” “Canoeing and Kayaking,” “Theater Camp,” “Music Camp,” and sports leagues, which offer learning and growth opportunities besides the essential summer fun they promise.

Plenty of other art, music and theater programs are available this summer, at places such as Neighborhood Music School and Creative Arts Workshop. Meanwhile, the city opens the swimming pools at Hillhouse, Wilbur Cross, Career and Martinez schools to the public, from 5 to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.

Summer reading programs are numerous. New Haven Free Public Library has one where if you read for ten hours you’re eligible for prizes (including a free book), and can attend an August 16 library party with kids entertainer Mr. G. The library also hosts weekly “Summer Reading Club” special events. The statewide Governor’s Summer Reading Challenge has the archaeological motto “Dig Into Reading” this year, and offers lists of suggested books for various areas and interests. The Yale Bookstore, as well as others in the Barnes & Noble chain, has an “Imagination’s Destination” reading challenge where kids can get a free book from a list of 20 bestsellers (from How to Train Your Dragon to Al Capone Does My Shirts) if they read any eight books and write down “to whom you would recommend” them. Applebee’s restaurants is giving a free kids meal to kids who devour ten books.

There are regular summer school classes, too, of course—the remedial kind that are the bane of a teen’s existence, but also ones which prepare precocious youngsters for high school or college work. Then there are those who’ll tell you that their first summer job provided the best education they ever got.

Time to sit under a tree, not far from a splash park, with a book in your hand and your head in the clouds—a crash course in acclimating to summer now that school is out in New Haven.

Written and photographed by Christopher Arnott.

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Christopher Arnott has written about arts and culture in Connecticut for over 25 years. His journalism has won local, regional and national awards, and he has been honored with an Arts Award from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. He posts daily at his own sites and New Haven Theater Jerk (

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