VOICES: Nontraditional summer school could be the antidote to summer solitude

Lazy afternoon at the pool. Family vacations. Stress-free days with no homework or academic headaches. Summer is right around the corner. While summer vacation can certainly be enjoyable for many, the reality is unfortunately very different for others — especially for the growing population of students who struggle with mental health challenges. For this vulnerable population, the lack of social support and institutional structure that comes with extended time out of school can be harmful — even crippling.

This is particularly concerning at a time when the mental health landscape among teens is one that the CDC characterizes as a “crisis.” More than four in ten students feel “persistently sad or hopeless” according to a recent CDC report. Even more sobering is the fact that more than one in five students have seriously considered ending their own lives. These numbers have spiked in recent years, reflecting a worrying trend line.

Against that backdrop, the feelings of isolation, loneliness and sadness that are a seasonal concern for many students during summer break are not just an unfortunate inconvenience but a genuine concern. Now is the perfect time to highlight this underappreciated concern and discuss realistic and potentially impactful solutions that are proven effective in improving mental health amongst young people.

For many families, the best answer to the summertime blues is summer school. Because schools play an important role in maintaining student mental health and well-being through education, prevention, and early intervention, summer school is a logical choice for students who might struggle during the summer. Summer school programs can provide safe and supportive environments where students can build trusting relationships with their peers, counselors, teachers, and coaches. Research has shown that students who feel valued and supported in a school environment are less likely to experience emotional distress, welcome news for parents looking to safeguard a child’s mental health.

Unfortunately, traditional summer school options may be limited or not feasible for many families. While remote work and flexible employment options are more common now than in the past, many families still rely on buses or carpools to get their children to school—transportation options rarely available in the summer. The good news for families everywhere is that there are more flexible options. Growing numbers of families are turning to online schools like K12 for summer programs students can participate in from home.

The combination of meaningful activities and constructive social and educational interactions during summer break can help keep those problematic feelings of isolation, loneliness, and sadness at bay. Summer coursework allows students to strengthen their understanding of core subjects and present exciting opportunities to explore topics they are genuinely interested in through elective courses, gain valuable new skills, or make progress toward an early graduation or a lighter schedule their senior year.

Online schools don’t just offer academic coursework but also provide a wide range of enrichment and socialization opportunities. For example, the K12 Zone is an interactive virtual campus, where students can connect with classmates, engage in clubs and activities, and access learning resources in a safe and welcoming environment. They can socialize with friends through virtual chats, participate in group activities like scavenger hunts, art competitions, and collaborative puzzles and games. K12 also places a strong emphasis on the importance of students’ mental health by providing tips and resources on their mental health awareness hub.

Nontraditional summer school options can be a lifeline that helps vulnerable students stay connected to a support system. For growing numbers of parents and educators, it’s an ideal way to safeguard young people’s mental health throughout the summer.

Dr. Brian Powderly is the Head of School at Ohio Digital Learning School, an online, tuition-free public school program.

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