Today is the last day of school for Hernando County public school students. When the final bell rings, joyful children will stream out of the schools and burst onto busy streets. Too many may go back to homes where no adults are present.
In these tough economic times, people do what they must do to survive. In some families, that may mean cutting out summer camp, canceling expensive child care arrangements, or scheduling fewer supervised trips to the movies, mall or some other recreational activity. The end result is kids left alone while their parents work.
More than ever, it will take a village to make sure our children have a safe summer. Here are some ways to help:
• Motorists, be aware that children may appear on the road in front of you at any time, day or night, in neighborhoods and on major thoroughfares. Children are risk takers. They also lack experience at judging the speed and direction of oncoming traffic. Don't expect them to go to intersections to cross the road safely, to wait until all traffic has cleared, or to wear light-colored clothing at night. Keep your eyes open and drive more cautiously when children are out of school.
• Parents, if you can't afford to pay someone to watch your children while you are at work, invest the time and effort to find alternatives to leaving them unsupervised. Call the parks and recreation department, churches and public libraries to ask about free summer programs. Call on relatives to help. Get together with other parents in your neighborhood to try to work out a system of supervising each other's children on a rotating schedule.
• If you are a retiree, or you don't have a job outside the home, or you have summers off, offer to help struggling parents by keeping an eye on their children or transporting them to their summer programs. Or sign up as a summer volunteer at a library, summer camp or recreation program. Volunteers are always welcome.
• Don't let a child go hungry. Some children are left in homes where there is little food available during the day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide $7,400 to the Hernando School District for serving meals to children younger than 18 this year. The district's Food and Nutrition Services department plans to serve approximately 1,750 breakfasts and lunches at 11 schools this summer. Call 797-7028 for more information about this free program.
• Churches looking to boost their community involvement couldn't do better than to provide daytime activities during the summer. A week of vacation Bible school is great, but more is even better.
• Don't look the other way. If you know that very young children are being left alone, if you see children engaging in dangerous activities, or if you notice a child being harassed or threatened in your neighborhood, notify the parents or call the police. Don't let your silence allow something awful to happen.
In less than three months, our children will be back in school and well-supervised by school staff during the day. Until then, we all need to take a role in keeping them safe.