Gyms could be put to use in summer


Recently, the Washington County Board of Education held a roundtable discussion, its new format for conversation between board members, staff and the public. This new forum comes as a welcome return for opportunity for public dialogue with the BOE after a hiatus of almost two years since abolishing its "Evening with the Board" format. The topic for this first event was "facilities usage."

While most of the discussion centered on how to better serve the community groups who utilize school athletic facilities, my interest was for a return to the summer open gymnasium policy that existed when I was teaching in the school system. I believe that having gyms open for student use during the summer could help solve many concerns.

First, it would provide a safe, positive environment for some of those students who have nowhere to go and nothing to do. While providing a place for youth to go, open gyms would offer exercise and athletic games for students to enjoy, while helping with the youth obesity crisis we hear so much about. While actively engaged in such activities, teenagers are also safe from the temptations that lead to another major concern of our county, teen pregnancies.


Another benefit would be the physical conditioning for student athletes. During the last session of our state government, a bill to alter the start time for fall athletic training was rejected. The bill had been introduced because Washington County schools' early starting dates limit the number of days fall athletes have for practice. The availability of exercise equipment and the opportunity for athletic conditioning through informal volleyball, basketball and other games would help keep athletes in good condition and help eliminate injuries during the sports season.

The gyms need not be utilized just by those interested in athletics. Students could bring chess or other board games which could be played sitting in the bleachers or along the sidelines. The bleachers could even become a place for tutoring to occur. Student government and future educator groups often provide tutoring during the school year; why couldn't such help be offered during the summer? Perhaps some students could gain service learning hours tutoring other students. Gyms could also be a place for students interested in reading to meet as a book club discussion group. There are certainly many other possibilities for safe, wholesome activities.

I realize that there are many considerations in deciding to open gymnasiums for student use during the summer, not the least of which is providing responsible supervision. Many teachers would welcome the opportunity for summer employment as an open gym coordinator. Perhaps public/private partnerships could help with the cost, or grant monies might be available. These positions could also be offered as part of the teacher career ladder as add-ons for additional compensation or as leadership points. In addition, students could earn service learning hours helping teacher coordinators or cleaning the gym and restrooms following open gym times. Many counties in Maryland, including Frederick and in neighboring states, have summer open gym policies. If they can provide such services, why can't Washington County?

With the need expressed by many groups around the county for increased activities for young people as well as the frequent complaint by teenagers themselves that they need more opportunities to occupy their time, I believe it is worth researching the practices of other school systems and perhaps trying a return to summer open gyms, if only on a limited trial basis.

I know the BOE is committed to offering as many choices and opportunities for students as possible during school, after school and in the summer. As one board member put it during the recent roundtable discussion, it is time to get creative and not just think out of the box, but perhaps throw the box out!

Jacqueline Fischer is a Clear Spring resident and a candidate for the Washington County Board of Education.

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