Do kids need to catch up in school or take a break this summer?
Traditional summer school, academic boot camps, enrichment programs, traveling sports and park district activities -- suburban parents are exploring a plethora of options to help their children make up for a stressful pandemic year of schooling.
While demand for such summer programs is high, there also is tremendous fatigue. Constant switching between remote and in-person learning has taken its toll on students, who also are dealing with pandemic restrictions and social isolation from peers.
To make up for learning loss, many suburban schools are offering expanded summer opportunities.
Among those is Elgin Area School District U-46, which for the first time is partnering with community organizations to offer in-person summer enrichment programs providing fun, innovative, artistic experiences, as well as physical fitness and outdoor recreational activities for elementary students.
"All of our sites are filled right now," said Rachel Jachowske, Elgin's youth and teen recreation supervisor overseeing several of U-46's summer camps starting June 14. "We have taken about 250 participants so far. It has really helped a lot of families."
Students will engage in a variety of activities at each of the city sites, including swimming, rock climbing, in-house entertainment, outdoor enrichment, fitness classes, STEM activities, arts and crafts and summer reading.
Slots for the U-46 camp offered by the YMCA of Elgin filled up in a flash with 400 students signed up in two days, said Trisha Morgan, youth and family manager. Offerings include swimming, STEM and art activities, sports camps, fitness classes and on-site field trips.
"The need for these parents to have their kids back in a program after just spending a year basically behind a computer screen is just astronomical," Morgan said.
"They want their kids interacting with kids of their age, being able to be social, play and have fun."
U-46's community partners will be providing a mix of activities, including outdoor education with experiential learning, STEM and language arts curriculum with social and emotional support, weekly field trips, visual and performing arts education, team-building activities and sports camps.
"We have more than 2,000 students registered to date for our community partnership programs," U-46 spokeswoman Mary Fergus said.
The Daily Herald surveyed numerous parents on Facebook about what choices they would make for their children's enrichment over the summer.
The most prevalent sentiment was that children need a break from learning. Some parents said they are counting down the days to when they can step away from computer screens to spend quality time with their kids and other family members. And many parents just want to get away and take a long vacation.
"It has been quite challenging this past year," said Craig Peters, of West Chicago. "We are all kind of putting our lives on hold until this whole thing is over."
Peters' daughters -- Lindsay, 19, a freshman at University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, and Ashley, 16, a St. Charles East student -- will be marching in a traveling drum and bugle corps in Dubuque, Iowa, this summer.
Last year's camp was canceled due to the pandemic, but this year organizers are hosting a shortened season with fewer stops across the Midwest.
"It's good to keep them active both mentally and physically," Peters said. "We've all been kind of cooped up inside the house for way too long."
What children need most is to be active and with their peers, said his wife, Melissa Peters.
"They just need to get out and have fun, spend time with their friends and be kids," she said.
Crystal Lake parent Amy Rath is sending her children -- Imani, 7 and Odette, 5 -- to educational camps offered through their day care, while her 14-year-old daughter, Emily, will keep busy with sporting activities at Crystal Lake South High School.
Rath said Imani, who has an individualized education plan, has fallen behind in reading like many of her peers who have spent more than half the school year in remote learning.
"They need a set schedule in order to really thrive, and no one has been able to give them that just because of the state of the world," Rath said. "There's only going to be so much normal socialization that you can do over the summer. I wanted some place that is going to reinforce basic math and reading skills. I'm grateful to have the option. If we took the summer off, I'd have serious concerns. However, I know every child, family situation is different."
Barrington mom Doreen Colletti Muhs wishes the school year could have been extended to give students the educational boost they need to fill learning gaps.
"The teachers are going to have to figure that out for next year," said Muhs, who was among the parents calling for schools to reopen sooner than they did in late January.
But Muhs feels summer is a time to decompress. Her 15-year-old son, Quentin, who'll be a sophomore this fall at Barrington High, will spend it learning to drive and playing football at a school camp and baseball with a traveling team.
"I didn't want to overwhelm him with a class," she said. "There is always that summer slide that the students naturally have. I want him to just grow socially and emotionally."