Lazy Days of Summer NOT!
by Jim Paterson
Student activity advisers make the most of summer by using the time "off" to plan ahead, work with student leaders, and rekindle their enthusiasm.
When the hot Texas sun beat down in Bastrop in July and August, chances are you wouldn't find Terry Hamm dozing by the pool.
She was more likely hard at work on a list of a dozen things she tried to accomplish over the summer months as adviser to the student council at Bastrop (TX) HS. And her summer efforts are typical of student activities advisers.
* At Terra Linda HS in San Rafael, CA, Cindy Bader, activities director, directs student council members in their homecoming efforts on hot summer days-following up on their meeting at the close of the school year. She's also bustling students off to leadership camps and retreats.
* Before the leaves ever show a hint of color in northern Pennsylvania, Aniko Walker at Villa Marie Academy in Erie, PA, has held separate sessions with incoming freshman and upperclassman to get a feel for their interests and experience and to help them bond. She's also helping 10 students who attended a state retreat put their experience to use in the group.
* At Conestoga MS, outside of Portland, OR, Sue Dowty, who teaches student leadership and supervises the student government, has made all the many purchases necessary for a successful year and developed a calendar for events. She also takes time to catch up on reading about leadership and student activities.
* David Womack, adviser to the student council at Duncanville (TX) HS, near Dallas, meets with council leaders and the principal to review council activities and how they connect with other events going on at the school.
* And in suburban St. Louis, Gary Clark, who is the director of student activities and student council adviser at Collinsville (IL) HS, holds a lock-in for his council members in early August, where the some 300 students break up into "villages" to tackle the challenges of the fast-approaching year.
The days of summer are hardly lazy for those who work as advisers for student activities.
"Using the summer effectively means the difference between a successful year and one that is not," says Hamm, who was a council adviser and active in student leadership at the state and national levels (see sidebar with Terry's dozen ideas for what to do over the summer.)
A priority for Hamm and others is to get activity members-or at least student leaders-together so they can get to know each other and begin planning.
Lea Brown, student council adviser at Downingtown East HS near Philadelphia, says she holds a leadership training day and requires all council members to attend.
"A leadership training session is an essential element for beginning a new year. Its primary purpose is to provide all members a foundation for the mechanics of our council," she says. "Process and responsibility are stressed." At that meeting students get a council binder and are assigned homerooms, while the basic structure of the school and the council are explained. A binder quiz is given at the end of the day.
In addition, Brown says, team building is stressed, with activities that promote cooperation and creativity, one of which is preparing the school for opening day, which involves" elaborate decorations that warm up a cold school."
Cindy Bader says holding a student council meeting at the end of the school year organizes the group and prepares them for the upcoming work, particularly on homecoming. "Then they are set to work on homecoming in their class councils over the summer. That includes choosing their float theme within the confines of the homecoming theme and getting donation letters out to various companies for supplies."
Debby Bettis, activity director at Southridge HS in Beaverton, OR, says her council meets once in the spring to elect officers at "an all-day retreat to connect, bond, play, and plan for the following year." She says at least two other meetings are held in the summer.
At Conestoga MS, Dowty at one time took her officers out to lunch. "I would take the president and vice president and returning officers out to lunch and we would talk about what we would like to see happen during the upcoming year. It was a chance to visualize our dreams and for middle school kids it was fun to 'do lunch' at a big-person, fancy restaurant."
She said issues about transporting students have restricted those sessions, but she still holds summer meetings with her 27 officers, and includes an ice cream and movie night.
"It is time to share and be with each other without the time pressure or task pressure," she says. "It helps build up the relationship between the student and the adviser and build support, understanding, and trust between each other."
Ron Jones, who was student activities director and leadership teacher for 17 years at Del Oro HS in Loomis, CA, says he held two types of summer sessions for students. One was an in-school six-hour session for all of the approximately 75 leadership students, which included getacquainted and team-building sessions. Break-out sessions focused on the calendar for the coming year, with brainstorming sessions about possible activities and projects.
Then, elected officers would often take a two-day retreat, usually at a cabin in the mountains, which included activities to help the group members get to know each other and work together. They would clarify job descriptions and discuss responsibilities.
Andy Costanzo, student council adviser at Interboro HS in Prospect Park, PA, holds a day-long retreat in July for his officers, committee chairmen, and any representatives from the previous year. He said it is often held at a member's house, ideally one with a pool.
"Always with food-it combines fun with some work. A report is given on the national conference [which he attends with a few students] and we do an overall evaluation of the previous year. Many events are repeated, but invariably changes are suggested."
A second meeting in mid-August includes more reports from leadership sessions and planning for the coming year, with entries to the school calendar.
They also hold planning sessions to review the calendar and training sessions on brainstorming (guidelines and the role of the facilitator, recorder, and participant), parliamentary procedure, meeting skills, project planning, delegation, time management, and other issues.
Working with the school calendar during the summer is critical, says Womack. "The master calendar is really important because we try to schedule meetings and other activities that don't conflict with things like the ACT/SAT, athletic events, band contests, field trips, and other activities."
Womack says during the summer he and students begin entering plans for the year on a large dry erase board in the council room. "By selecting dates early it also allows me to complete facility reservation forms, contact the local newspaper for publicity, and request substitutes for my classroom. Taking care of that early really helps later one when I'm going crazy because we have 12 different projects going on at once.
Shawn Stelow, a former council adviser and now state student leadership specialist for the Maryland Department of Education, says that many schools in Maryland also make an effort to get old and new officers together to make the transition easier.
Just east of St. Louis at Collinsville HS, council adviser Gary Clark says that the size of his school's 300-member "walk-on" council made it important to develop a different approach.
Students begin to work with "villages" in the summer, where they are divided up, generally by their class, although as the year progresses the villages often form around projects. Each village plans activities and presents them to the entire council; if they are accepted they can move ahead.
"More students can feel connected this way. They like the concept and they really like the summer activities," Clark says. "It gives them a good start to the school year and a chance to get together. Incoming students get a lot of new friends, making it easier for them to adjust to a new school."
Advisers also report that along with assisting their students and training themselves, they often find ways to "recharge" during the summer months.
"I try to relax and have some fun," says Womack. "It helps if I take some extra time for me."
Others report that they simply review books and magazines that have been piling up and note or file good ideas they come across.
"Summer is a good time to read through leadership books that have been gathered from various adviser workshops or conferences-those things you might not get time to read during the school year," says Donna Forester, director for student leadership services at the Virginia Association of secondary School Principals and a former council adviser. She recommends this along with attendance at retreats and camps and meetings with council leadership.
"You can pull ideas out of the books during the summer to use during the school year, and you can do that while relaxing at the beach."
Van Doom reads books on leadership by authors such as Ken Blanchard, Patrick Lancioni, and John C. Maxwell, and Ron Jones looks for movies that he can show students to inspire them.
"I look for movies in the summer that show leadership principles. Students relate well to these scenes, better internalize the lessons, and remember the principles longer. I find the scenes to be great springboards for discussion and delivery," he says.
Linda Westfall, formerly an activity director and now secretary for the California Association of Directors of Activities, says she made it a point to come in one day a week in the summer to read mail, plan, and organize materials-and meet with students. "Then I felt organized and relaxed when it was really time for the crunch. It did a lot for my well-being. Plus if anyone had questions for me they knew I was coming in that day."
Jones says it is also important for the well-being of advisers to just to get away from the work at school. "Recharging for me involves doing the things I am unable to do during the school year. It is refreshing for me to get away from the school and turn my attention to other things for a brief time."
"We need to let our brains have time to be turned off," says Dowty. "Activities directors go, go, go. Even in the shower and while sleeping we are thinking about the next activity. I wake up at 3 a.m. considering activities. By forcing me to stop thinking about them for three or four weeks it allows new ideas and old ones to shift in and out-lets me think about new things."
Jim Paterson is a freelance writer in Olney, MD.