Have a _______ Summer: What Does it Say on YOUR School’s Billboard?

Hi Folks — This observation struck me as, “Oh my gosh, YES!” It may do the same for you. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: During my daily travels, I pass by several different schools. I’ve noticed a theme when reading their billboards once school is out. Instead of wishing students a fun-filled summer, every single school billboard says, “Have a Safe Summer!”

Isn’t that a strange phenomenon? The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous it seemed. Is summer dangerous? Silly me, I’ve always equated summer with late bedtimes, fireflies, sprinklers, friends and FUN. Never once when returning to school in the fall to regale our teachers with stories of cautious good times: “We never got sunburned once! We were so safe!”

I am curious if this is something your readers have noticed on their school billboards–I live in a suburb of Cleveland and wishing kids a safe summer seems to be par for the course around here. Just once  I’d like to drive by a school billboard that says “Have a f**cking awesome summer!” or, more realisitically, “Have an awesome, fun-filled summer!” : )  — Donna in Ohio

Be Safe!

67 Responses

  1. When I was in high school (late 80s-early 90s) our billboards said something like “Have a great summer”. For several summers in a row, people from my school would sneak onto the school roof at night and change the sign. The first time it was changed from “Have a safe summer” to “Have safe sex”. The following year it was “Have a great, safe summer” to “Have great, safe sex”. I really wish I had a photo. 😦

  2. Around here, every organisation wishes you a safe everything. The news wishes you a “safe and happy holidays”. So does every school billboard, so does your company, so does the government. I’ve always found it kind of depressing, because someone wishing me a “safe” time kind of calls attention to the fact that it could be otherwise.

  3. I work on a military installation in Germany. As you exit the base, there is a big sign about summer safety. We also get weekly e-mails from the command about staying safe over the summer. Every year all employees, both US and local national, must attend a mandatory safety briefing. As Sera said above, it’s a bit depressing to always see and hear things about safety instead of fun and enjoyment.

  4. “and remember to read.” I’ve seen that one a few times this summer. It is a good message, but how about some FUN!

  5. “Have a fun-filled summer fraught with danger-laced adventure! Come back in one piece and tell us about it!”

    (The billboard kit probably doesn’t have enough letters left, and the funds to replace it were spent on security guards)

  6. Of course it says have a safe summer. Schools don’t want you to have a fun summer anymore. They want you to spend the summer reviewing and reviewing and reviewing. Fun gets in the way of that. Safety does not.

  7. I think ours says something about no fireworks…but I live in Colorado.

  8. I love Selby’s sign idea!

  9. @Grace, When I was a kid, my idea of fun was unlimited access to the library. It was what drove me onto my bike every few days.

    It’s still a sanctimonious message on a school billboard, but reading is fun too.

    And now it’s my job; I’m an editor. Sadly, the material is less fun.


  10. “Have an awesome summer. Remember: prizes given in September to the student with the most stitches!”

  11. @Heather I’m with you on this one. My ideal summer was to go to library, read one book right there and take 6-7 to home. The formal limit was 5 books per person, but I always managed to convince the lady that it is not enough for me :).

    Read those books as fast as possible and go to library again. And now, I’m a programmer; but I doubt it has anything to do with those books.

  12. Well, every time we leave my in-laws house my father-in-law always says “drive safe”. Makes me laugh. Just in case I was thinking of rally racing home……

  13. In south Texas, it’s “Have a cool summer.” They mean it. And we DO it (swimming pool, water hose, sprinklers, digging for turtle eggs, fishing by the creek)!

    I love the comment about giving prizes for the most stitches. I also love that my kids put safety above fun, all on their own (most of the time).

  14. My son’s school sign just says “Gone Fishing”. I love it!

  15. They do that around here, in suburban Philly, too. I think the school I work at, a middle school, even puts it on the report cards! I like the stitches idea too, and the gone fishing sign is awesome. Sadly, for many of my middle schoolers I am worried about what they might get into with so much free time on their hands. Some suggestions towards fun, creativity, and adventure would be good for all!

  16. Our billboard is frankly embarrassing…it has the dates and times of fall registration, and basically says the following. “Seniors, Aug ___ at ___, Juniors, Aug__at __, Sophomores, Aug __at ___, and Freshman, Aug __ at __. So apparently only one freshman will be registering on that date. Do my administrators not understand the plural?

  17. Schools seem to do everything they can to make reading seem like a chore. And I don’t let my kids join any of the summer reading programs at the libraries here, because the only goal is to read the most books.Entirely defeats the purpose.

    Ajheisler- love it!

  18. I joined my son’s preschool board this year. We had an 8+ hour meeting last month (so much fun on a summer day) to discuss all of the upcoming year’s activities, issues, etc. The safety portion of the meeting by itself took nearly three hours! This was way longer than any other single subject.

    Did I mention this was by far the most boring part of the meeting?! Yes, I understand the need for safety. Believe me, I get it. But we spent so much time discussing what types of emergency supplies we should have on hand (in the unlikely event that kids should be trapped at the school–they go for two and a half hours a few days a week), and what to do in case a stranger wanders into the school, etc., that I started to just get numb to it.

    Of course we should be prepared, but the whole safety thing has started to feel like an obsession to me. Why do we need to discuss to death what supplies we should have on hand? Why do we need to imagine scenarios in which intruders come to our school? Why can’t we focus on, say, fun activities since this is a preschool?!

  19. @Jackie, at least they didn’t add at the bottom, “Have a safe registration!”

    Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t.

  20. I’m a suburban Clevelander, too, and my daughter’s school’s sign currently reads: “Have a safe summer”. I agree a simple “Have a great summer” would be better.

  21. While it might make me sound like a radical socialist, there seems to be bit of class bias in these signs. The sign school my daughter will start at this Fall says: “Free Lunch for Kids 5-18. M-F 11-1. Jun 10-Aug 24.” Only schools where the students have the least to worry about would have the space to wish their students a safe summer.

  22. Nothing on ours, the last June events are still listed. I think the sign lady quit.

  23. Some schools are run by overly protective people. When they start banning any activity that involved running, touching, etc because they may get hurt or fall into sexual activity as we have happening here in Australia, you know you have problems.

    As for signs, I never saw any signs outside schools until the late 90’s.

  24. My old school started a cool tradition recently: they have a big boulder by the sign out front. You can paint anything you like on the boulder with the understanding that anybody can paint over it at any time. I think the staff check it daily even in the summer because dirty stuff never lasts long.

  25. Eric–yup. And the “have a safe summer” sign would make sense in places where the school lunch program signs appear. Summer safety is very different in places where kids get shot by stray bullets or get caught up in gang activity. But instead, the places that say have a “safe summer” just mean wear sun tan lotion while enjoying the pool, avoid the sun and try not to get carpel tunnel from your video games.

    By the way, I like the “and read” addition. Have seen that in my very safe neighborhood. Reading is fun and should be part of summer. You know reading fun stuff not reading to write reports.

  26. I love the prize for the most stitches idea! I always tell my kids when they get the first road rash on their knees from falling down with shorts on Summer has started! I hope everyone reading this has an awesome summer

  27. Have a f**cking awesome summer!” would be my idea of the perfect school sign!! thanks for the laughs!

  28. You mean you still have signs??
    Ours were taken down- distracted drivers reading them could cause car accidents.

  29. George Carlin did a piece on the term “Have a nice day!”, I’ve always wanted to redo it with “safe” replacing “nice”.

  30. The sign on our local elementary school says something like “have lots of fun this summer. And remember to read… for fun!”

    I am with some of the commentors, some of my best summer memories include lots of books under shady trees. I love reading and so far my 4 yr old does too. His little sister, not so much, which is ok too. But I wouldn’t ban them from the summer reading programs, ours give out prizes for reading different kinds of books: nonfiction, a book about a cool job, a book about a different country, etc.

  31. I always like to laugh at the billboards that can’t spell Congratulations Graduates

  32. Ours says “Good luck Mrs. Dennis, Welcome Mrs. Kennedy” the old principal is moving to a new school and a new one is taking her place. I think most of the ones around here still say have a great summer but I’ll take a look and see if they’ve used “safe” instead.

  33. This reminds me of what happened in our New York City elementary school after September 11th…school administrators had a meeting about “how to deal with the children” in the aftermath (certainly not easy, of course). But the consensus was that parents should constantly reassure their children about how safe they were. This was on top of every teacher telling the kids how safe they were, the principal holding a school-wide meeting to emphasize how safe they were, and assorted school counselors visiting each classroom to mention, in case it hadn’t been in the last 20 minutes, how safe everybody was.

    The obvious happened: The constant repetition of the word “safe” was a red flag for most all the children, whose suspicions were rightly raised by this new and bizarre insistence that THEY WERE ALL SAFE (when not one person over the age of, say, six, believed that we were actually that safe after New York had just been attacked, for heaven’s sake). One of my children, who was 10 at the time, asked me one night why everybody kept talking about how safe they were: “I sort of felt okay,” she told me, “until everybody kept saying that over and over, and now I keep wondering why? What’s going to happen?”

    I don’t know…probably the whole “Be safe, be careful” thing has become a mantra in our modern world, magical thinking: if we say it enough, maybe it will come true?

  34. Wasn’t it the boy scouts old motto : “be prepared”…which at the time most likely meant having a first aid kit and a jackknife and going off on an adventure…on their own…and dealing with whatever came up…wonder what it is now?

  35. Here’s a photograph of the sign outside the middle school in my town.

  36. @Ellie, that makes me think of a less serious example in Knight and Day where he explains that if they keep telling her that she’s safe, it means they’re going to kill her. There’s nothing I hate more than constant reassurance.

    On a side not, but still speaking of signs, I know those baby on board signs for cars have been brought up before, but recently I’ve started seeing child on board signs. Wondering if anyone else has noticed the uptick.

  37. I don’t think our elementary schools have signs. I know ours doesn’t, not sure about the other two. The high school has one but I never go near there or the middle schools.

    There is a big banner attached to the playground fence at the one elementary school that advertises the free summer lunch program they have in town. All kids get a free lunch every day if they show up at that particular school. Of course, they probably expect parents to be with them or sign them in and out. My kids go over there all the time by themselves because behind the school is a public park and down the road next to the park is the ball park, another playground and the river (with swimming access). I’m sure if they showed up for free lunch they’d be turned away for lack of a parent or guardian.

  38. Both of my daughters’ teachers wrote “Have a safe summer” on their thank you notes for our year-end gifts!

    Funny that so far this summer they’ve caught baby snapping turtles and crawdads, swam in lake Michigan without life preservers, helped split wood, used a chisel, helped me garden in 102 degree weather, rollerskated and biked without helmets, helped their dad fix motorcycles with real tools, climbed trees, stayed out after dark, made their own sandwiches, cut their own cantaloupe, ran after candy at a parade, climbed into a public fountain, made new adult friends in public places, jumped from swings, scaled walls, and survived! I think they’ll make it to 1st grade and pre-K unscathed.

  39. The Boy Scout motto is still Be Prepared. When asked prepared for what? Boy Scout founder Robert Baden Powell said “for any old thing”.

  40. My daughter’s JK-8 school says “Have a Safe Summer”, too. (I know this because after transporting herself home from school since September, and both ways since March, she’s now attending the school’s childcare program’s day camp, which is governed by the Ontario Day Nurseries Act and therefore requires parent drop-off and pickup — so I saw that sign 8 separate times last week. This week she’s at sleep-away camp, and for 2 weeks next month she’ll be taking the city bus on her own to/from another day camp in a nearby national park. So having to drop her off and pick her up seems slightly absurd, but not worth fighting with the (just-trying-to-keep-their-licence) childcare staff about.) The first time I saw it, I immediately thought of what FRK would say 😉

  41. Oh, and here’s a little tribute to the Boy Scout motto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1NwQR-odUo

  42. Ours just has school information, pretty boring. Considering they have summer camps there, I’m amazed they aren’t advertising those, but it’s just end of school year stuff still.

  43. The sign at the middle school near my house reads “Have a wonderful summer!” Then again, I live in Kentucky, and to paraphrase Mark Twain, everything happens here twenty years late.

  44. @Selby – most of the school billboards around here are LED now, and cycle through several sentences – it could fit!

    @Jackie – that’s what the ones around here say too (though without any grammatical errors)… it makes me feel like they are telling the kids they won’t be out of prison for long…

  45. Eric – Not only is there some class bias, but this is totally a 1st world problem. I have yet to be wished a “safe” anything in A. Samoa. Yet it is a place where medical care sucks and the risk of serious infection from even minor injuries is extremely high (in the last 3 months my daughter’s friend was hospitalized in Hawaii after a mosquito bite and my boss was hospitalized after scraping her leg on her bed). Kids also do yard work with machetes, are expected to do chores like cooking, work plantations, ride local buses to school alone, and are always out and about unsupervised.

    My daughter’s school has never once asked me how she is getting to and fro school. During the school year, I usually take her and pick her up, but this “summer” (our cold, dry season but we refer to it as “summer” to conform with the US) my child may go home with any number of people. Sometimes she goes home with a babysitter, sometimes a friend for a playdate, sometimes I pick her and other kids up for a playdate at our house. Nobody questions it. Nobody complains. I don’t need written notes. It is how school pick up and drop off should be.

    And the summer school classroom has two volunteers both there for the entire half day of school and both sometimes left alone with students. One is a parent. One is, for lack of a longer explanation, the nanny of one of the kids (and my daughter’s babysitter). No background checks. No fingerprints. No formal volunteer process at all. Just a couple people who volunteered to help because the class is over full and the teacher needed help.

  46. I think that our local elementary school says when classes being in August. Kind of like having the Grim Reaper there telling you that tomorrow is your day.

  47. I saw a hardware store advising us to have a safe summer.

  48. I drove by the school boulder today–it’s wishing somebody a happy birthday on one side and showing off a unicorn in Iron Man colors on another side. As for the sign, the old slide-in-the-letters sign was replaced by a cooler and froodier animated computerized sign a year or two ago. The local severe weather promptly broke it and of course they can’t afford to replace it. Gee, it’s not as if we ever get gale-force winds or icy rain going sideways or wind chills that can stop cars from starting or anything.

  49. @nosyparker, my husband always told people to “drive wildly” as they were leaving our house. I loved that. 🙂

    Our school sign says “Have a fun, safe summer” so at least they’re getting both ideas in there.

  50. You are all making me feel jealous. Here in Australia it is the middle of winter and I am reading all your summer filled holidays in front of the heater. At least we are in the final week of our 2 week holidays and I am catching up with my reading while wrapped up in my doona, and enjoying the fact there is no morning rush. So have a fantastic summer holidays to all the wonderful parents and adventerious kids, and to all those parents and kids south of the equator enjoy and stay warm and if not release the inner child and jump in all those puddles.

  51. I am just happy there is no summer reading assignment this year. Nothing against reading, love it myself and our son is always reading something. But it’s nice not to have homework to think about and be able to enjoy other ways of learning about the world.

  52. @Hellen Reading a book chosen by yourself and reading a book chosen by the teacher are two completely different things. Even if the book assigned by the teacher is good, having to read it during summer somehow spoils the pleasure.

    If nothing else, if the book was chosen by the kid, the kid can drop it the moment it decides that the book is boring. Teacher assigned books have to be finished no matter how much you hate them.

  53. So far I’ve seen one school where the east side of the sign said “Have a safe summer” and the west side said “Summer reading assignments available in office.” No joke! Ugh. And the other one I’ve seen was a long, complicated message about registration times and dates (I only saw one side.).

    I think I’m going to be going by a couple more today (all in the same district) so I’ll post those after I check them.

  54. This made me laugh. I am the marquee volunteer at our school and I always change the “Have a safe summer” that is written on my marquee sheet to “Have a happy summer.” I am such a rebel!

    One would think that only a tiny portion of kids survive the summer each year.

  55. I live 3 blocks from the nearest high school and I couldn’t give you the first clue what’s on their sign because its a French/Catholic high school !!!! I only know English !!!!!

    Maybe, from what I’ve read upthread it might be a blessing in disguise !!!! 🙂

  56. I’m pleased to report that, as of yesterday, ours said “Happy Summer!” along with an ad for the 4th of July parade that hadn’t been taken down yet.

  57. Not a “safe” summer in my neighborhood schools! (At least, not on the signs). The junior high says “Enjoy Your Summer” on one side, and lists their summer office hours on the other. The elementary school has a fancier electronic sign, and it scrolls through several messages. This includes one about office hours, a reminder to enroll new students now, a promo for the free summer lunch program (for kids 1-18!), and “Reading is FUN!”. I’m not sure what the high school says (not on my regular commute), but it’s probably about registration or a sports thing.

  58. The one I pass while running errands says “Have a nice summer” and I thought to myself- how bland, It should say have a #%^*ing awesome summer! Great minds think alike, eh?

  59. Continuing the Erie, PA survey: Grover Cleveland Elementary has some message thanking some specific person for providing an “outdoor camp,” whatever that means. But it’s a nice message for those who comprehend, I suppose.

    Perry Elementary says “Have a Great Summer,” which is a relief, considering it’s named for Oliver Hazard Perry, famous for crying “Don’t Give Up The Ship!” during the Battle of Lake Erie.

    Central Career and Technical High School: I couldn’t tell, because either the sign was left blank, or it was too shaded by trees planted right over it to be readable from the street (20 feet away.) FAIL. Maybe they should have asked some of their photography students to check the lighting.

    I’ll go by two more this afternoon.

  60. Okay, last two: Jefferson Elementary has a general inspirational quote: Sometimes the smallest things in your world can take up the biggest space in your heart.

    Lincoln Elementary had a mish-mash of three unrelated messages crammed onto the sign, one of which was “Have a Great Summer.”

  61. Ours says when the library bookmobile comes in the summer.

  62. All of the regional trains in NYC/NJ play an automated message that ends with “Thank you for riding, and have a safe day!”

    I always thought that was stupid.

  63. I’ll keep my eyes open and report back. But I agree with the constant “be safe” message. I think it’s way overused to the point of meaninglessness, the way you’re never sincerely wished a nice day by anyone, or when someone asks “How are you?” they don’t actually want to know, and “I’m good, how are you?” is virtually the only acceptable answer.

    I like the tradition that Jenny talked about with the boulder. Every school should do that, and you know, screw it, municipalities and workplaces should too, because why should kids have all the fun? Why spend 17 years encouraging kids to be active only to prepare them of a life of never doing anything but going to work, doing chores and watching TV? The boulder encourages wonderful creativity. I bet kids are constantly seeking out ideas of what to paint up there.

  64. One of the coolest things I ever saw was in 1999. It was about a month after school started and I was in a town called San Angelo, Tx, about 70,000. Every single billboard, from the schools, to almost 90% of the business in town, had “Never shake a baby!” on them.

  65. I drive by a school a everyday, but I think it only has a sign with the school name. The school we use to live near only had whatever the upcoming events were, even during the summer. I don’t remember if they ever actually posted anything about summer.

    I do agree the safe thing get’s a little bit much sometimes. Everybody wishes you a safe everything nowadays and I think, what is so dangerous about this stuff now that wasn’t dangerous when I was a kid?

    I know there was a time when some of the neighborhoods I drove through would post signs at the end of the school year to make everyone aware that children were getting out of school and to watch for kids,then at the beginning of the years they would put signs up for the kids starting school and to watch out for them. Evidently during the middle of the summer you can run over all the kids you want!

  66. Our electronic signs say everything from the times and dates of summer school, the first date of school, where to get a library card, location of free summer meals and have fun.

    Sadly, though, many teachers do cross their fingers for a safe summer. Summer is when tempers flare, kids are out late, and lots of people are outside to cool off. I know the police will tell you that is when they most worry about kids getting hurt in fights. “Have a safe summer” on a sign isn’t much help, though. More effective would be if the schools offered lists of programs and “safe havens” that are offered free or at low cost throughout the city.

  67. Wow. Few things still trigger such a feeling of dread and resistance in my soul as the phrase “summer reading list.” And I read early, was always a great reader, devoured books.

    I think this is partly why I couldn’t completely enjoy “book clubs.” Assigned reading was an automatic killjoy for me, always. As my 8-year-old passionate reader kid says, “As soon as I have to read, I don’t want to anymore.”

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