Arts & CultureKiddie Dope

Keeping Kids’ Minds and Bodies Fed Over the Summer

It’s the time of year when parents of school-aged children feel the cold, harsh grip of anxiety—summertime.

Sure, it’s awesome that our kids learn stuff nine months out of the year when they’re in school. But the larger bonus of the school day is that it gives them a safe place to go during the day. If you’re a working parent, summer’s arrival means erecting a scaffolding of camps and other means of caregivers while you continue to hold down a job.

Hopefully, at this point, you’ve figured out your summer plans. (Or are successfully winging it. If that’s the case, here’s a newspaper high-five!) But even if you haven’t, it’s likely you can still benefit from some summer-oriented programs in place to help kids keep reading and stay fed during the summer—obviously, two pretty important things.

Feed the Mind: First, let’s talk about reading. Because it’s summer, the phrase “summer slide” starts to creep into people’s vocabulary. And yeah, much like muscles that get a little soft when we stop working out—hey, who you looking at?—our brains can lose some muscle memory when they aren’t being used every day. Unfortunately, not every child in Clarke County has access to quality, grade-appropriate books at home, which is why the organization Books for Keeps steps in during the weeks before school lets out.

For the past decade, expanding year after year, Books for Keeps has given elementary-school children a bag of books to take home. These are new books that the kids get to pick out and are excited about. The idea is, if they have books they want to read, they’ll read them.

At a recent event at Alps Road Middle School, Books for Keeps founder Melaney Smith celebrated the organization’s 10th anniversary, and also a recent milestone: giving out its 500,000th book. As of this year, Books for Keeps distributes books to children in all but two Clarke County elementary schools. Executive Director Leslie Hale says they are now in a push to secure $40,000, which would provide for books at the last two schools, Chase Street and Timothy Road elementary schools.

It’s important to bring Books for Keeps to every school, said Hale, because so many students in Clarke County change schools from year to year. By serving students at all the elementary schools, it guarantees that kids will go home with books that summer, no matter where they live in the county.

“We are providing enrichment opportunities to kids over the summer that otherwise wouldn’t exist,” says Hale. “These are kids who want to graduate from high school and be part of their community.” And this isn’t just anecdotal evidence of kids wanting to read books during the summer; there’s research that Books for Keeps is compiling that shows kids’ access to books over the summer has a positive impact on their reading scores when they come back to school in the fall.

Books for Keeps picks up where the Dolly Parton Imagination Library leaves off. Sponsored by the United Way of Northeast Georgia, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library sends one book a month to children younger than age 5, so by the time they enter kindergarten, they already have a sizable home library.

I wrote about this program a couple months ago, but I do have a development to add since that column was published. United Way now has a new system to keep track of book registrations, which means that when a child ages out of the program, a new child can now be added in their place. This is a change from the previous system, which only allowed for new children to be added a couple of times.

If you have a child who is younger than 5, you can visit and click on the registration link to enroll your child. This is a great program for developing early literacy, and if you’re new to Clarke County (or haven’t heard of the program) and have a young child, it’s a great way to introduce them to books.

No matter how old your child is, you should also go check out the summer reading programs at the Athens-Clarke County Library. It’s free and features prizes. What more do you need?

Feed the Body: On a more serious note, another source of anxiety for parents over the summer is food. While it’s unfortunate that Athens has such a high rate of poverty that school lunches are free for all children, it’s also a great benefit to our kids. They know that five days a week, they can get breakfast and lunch without any issues or more burdens on their parents.

Well, parents, if you’re freaking out a little about pulling together lunches this summer, the Clarke County School District has your back. From June 3–July 28, school cafeterias at Clarke Central High, Clarke Middle, Howard B. Stroud and Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary will be open from 11 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Monday–Friday, and Barnett Shoals Elementary, Barrow Elementary, Coile Middle and Cedar Shoals High will be open Monday–Thursday. Lunches for anyone younger than 18 are free, while adult lunches are $3.75.

The school district is also continuing its mobile meals program in June and July, absorbing sites served in previous years by the Athens Housing Authority.

So, as we embrace the heat of the summer, take note: Teachers, rest up—you did a great job; students, keep reading; and parents, just breathe. It’ll be fall before you know it.