Today, in Tulsa and throughout the nation, we hear lots of talk about education reform. At Camp Fire, we believe we need a parallel discussion of “informal education” reform. We’re talking about ensuring that all children have the same opportunities for enriching experiences beyond the classroom.
Three items in the Sunday, August 2, 2009 New York Times relate to our concern that too many underprivileged youngsters fall behind their more affluent peers because they lack access to what most of us take for granted.
The first item, an article titled, “School is out for summer, but education doesn’t end for Obama children,” details all the enriching experiences Sasha and Malia Obama are enjoying during their summer vacation. A trip with the President and First Lady where the girls not only enjoyed the beach in Ghana, but received a history lesson as they toured a former slave prison. Visits to Camp David, giving service by helping stuff backpacks for children of service men and women, healthy eating, exercise and plenty of time for good, old-fashioned summer fun – activities similar to those enjoyed by millions of children across the country.
The second item, a Nicholas Kristof editiorial, “How to Lick a Slug,” recounts the writer’s backpacking trip along the Pacific Coast Trail with his 11 year old daughter. He concludes by lamenting the lack of opportunities for youngsters to experience the out-of-doors and urges readers to “acknowledge that getting kids awed by nature is as important as getting them reading.”
The third item – an ad for Sea Island resort on the coast of Georgia – reads “In a few short weeks your kids will be in school. How do you want them to remember summer?” The ad features a happy family having fun at this pricey resort. When I see this ad, my thoughts go straight to the kids whose families can’t even afford a trip to a nearby state park and their neighborhood park has been closed due to city budget cuts.
Anyway – all three of these items highlight what researchers at the Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) and other education reformers call “Complementary Learning” – quality early childhood care, safe and constructive afterschool experiences, summer camp, family vacations, trips to museums, historical sites and libraries (if not libraries, more likely bookstores), performing arts and sporting events, amusement parks, plus homework help and tutoring if needed. HFRP researchers and other education professionals (Edmund Gordon, James Comer) suggest that poor children’s lack of access to complementary learning opportunities fuels the achievement gap in education between more affluent/white and poor/minority children. Concerted efforts in communities like Tulsa have the potential to level the playing field by ensuring that we provide a comprehensive system of affordable and accessible out-of-school time activities and opportunities for children from families that struggle to make ends meet.
To read more about complementary learning, go to http://www.hfrp.org/complementary-learning
Bobbie Henderson is Executive Director of the Green Country Council of Camp Fire USA. Camp Fire is a coeducational youth development program that provides youth of all types opportunities for leadership and self-reliance, environmental education and outdoors activities, and after school and child care programs. Read more about Camp Fire at www.tulsacampfire.org and www.campfireusa.org.