By Eric Tegethoff
Washington News Service
SEATTLE – Bill Hanawalt of Tacoma is being honored at the White House today as a Champion of Change for Summer Opportunity.
A ceremony will pay tribute to Hanawalt and eight other nominees along with the city of Seattle for their efforts to help students continue to learn while school is out during summer.
Hanawalt, executive director of Peace Community Center, said the center serves working families in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood.
“There’s a lot of challenges that happen during the summer when young folks are unsupervised or home alone,” he said, “and so we can turn that time when often students backslide academically to a time of rich learning and great experiences for kids.”
While Peace Community Center’s programs are focused on academics, Hanawalt said he understands that kids need the opportunity to play during the summer, too. Even with its limited resources and capacity, the center is able to partner with other programs and give a comprehensive experience to kids in elementary school all the way through high school. They go on field trips and get art lessons. Hanawalt said the center doesn’t approach the programs like school in summer.
“We certainly try and get away from the stigma of summer school, which is somewhat of a punitive program at times,” he said, “or students feel like, ‘Well, if I have to go to summer school, there must be something wrong.’ ”
Hanawalt also is working with lawmakers in Olympia to ensure that more kids have access to programs.
David Beard, education policy and advocacy director for School’s Out Washington, said it can be tricky to find summer programs such as Hanawalt’s in other parts of the state. Although school districts sometimes have small budgets for summer programs, often there aren’t enough participants to justify spending money, and so kids miss out and potentially fall behind.
“Availability of funding just isn’t there,” he said. “There aren’t the private foundations there that can support, families don’t have much money to put into it, and then the state really isn’t putting any money into it.”
Information on more summer youth programs in Washington is online at schoolsoutwashington.org.