An investment in a summer experiential education program is always a big investment. They are expensive and involve giving up something else like working, a summer internship, and precious family time. Or it might interfere with skill building like taking extra courses in summer school, or additional tutoring to counter weaker academic areas.
Good grades and access to the right college have become essential for young people today. Yet there is a new and welcome emphasis on the so called ‘soft’ skills—character building skills that include tenacity, grit, empathy and gratitude, the skills that make young people more resilient. The late Lillian Rubin PhD writes in her book The Transcendent Child that separation from parents increases resiliency in children. I have found in my own three children that attending camps in middle school and then challenging summer programs in high school did indeed make them more tenacious, independent, trusting in themselves, confident and less susceptible to peer pressures once they were back in school. Yet most of those programs are are targeted for affluent youth.
For underprivileged youth in our country living in poverty, the biggest challenge is often isolation. Attending a residential summer program introduces them to the outside world and to young people from different backgrounds. This experience not only breaks isolation but expands their vision of themselves and their opportunities in life.
For the over-privileged youth in our country the biggest challenge is identity. External appearances and success are extremely important as is pleasing others. These expectations can often run counter to developing a strong internalized individual voice. According to psychologist Eric Erickson this is the single most important task and challenge of the adolescent years.
For both groups, an extended trip into the wilderness can become trans-formative. There are hundreds of choices, for general comprehensive information look for Peterson’s Guide to Camps and Summer Programs on the internet or in the library. No choice is full proof. It’s like being at the right school but getting the wrong teacher. Yet, for the past 25 years, I have found the following programs have consistently performed well bringing life-changing opportunities to both underprivileged and over-privileged youth.
Deer Hill Expeditions Students learn skills to live in the wilderness and promote stewardship of the Earth, with a soulful focus on appreciation of the natural world and fostering service to the native lands and people of the Four Corners region and Costa Rica. learn more
Environmental Traveling Companions Takes students on an empowering journey along a California watershed, traveling from the mountains to the sea to learn about our natural resources, gain outdoor leadership skills, and discover the leader within us all. learn more
Global Leadership Adventures Community service and cultural immersion programs around the globe, taking groups of students to live and learn about local communities in a life-changing service-learning journey. learn more
Global Glimpse Inspires students to become responsible and successful global citizens through leadership, community service, and youth training in Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, and Ecuador. learn more
Longacre Leadership From cooking meals and feeding animals, to taking out the trash and harvesting vegetables, teens and adults work hand-in-hand to a create a supportive and sustainable community. learn more
National Outdoor Leadership School Expeditions through the remote wilderness of Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho, and New York, and go deeper into leadership, first aid, survival skills, and environmental ethics so that participants can lead their own expeditions. learn more
Sierra Nevada Journeys Uses the unique outdoor classrooms of Northern California to deliver outdoor science and collaborative problem solving education in the wilderness, promoting leadership and long-term student achievement. learn more
Teton Science Schools Teton Science takes the classroom to the wilderness, focusing on natural history, ecology, environmental awareness, self-reflection, and leadership in the Grand Teton and Yellowstone region. learn more
Visions Service Adventures Takes students to Alaska, Montana, Mississippi, the Caribbean, and Latin America, while providing an excellent opportunity to learn about leadership through community service, cultural immersion, and adventure explorations. learn more