Changing Adolescent Behavior: What Works

What works is summer experiential education programs for all adolescents. Separation from home offers the chance for positive risk-taking and increases resiliency. .

It was Mother Theresa who said, “What we need is not a class struggle but a class encounter.” Summer Search was a good idea to bring diversity to the private field of summer experiential education. Seldom today do young people from different economic backgrounds have the chance not only to meet each other but to actually live together, work together, and learn from each other. In the beginning some people believed that it’s not such a good idea, possibly even a dangerous idea. This is understandable. Watching kids at the private high school my own children attended which had 80% of the richest kids and 20% of the poorest on full scholarships there was obvious discomfort between the two groups. My own middle class kids struggled with the affluence as well as the fact that coming from a public grade school they were academically behind. But what if the external trappings of affluence and poverty were stripped away? What if no one went home at the end of the day?   What if they as a group were to experience a wilderness expedition? Often wet, cold, and hungry, with 50 lb. backpacks for three weeks culminating with the euphoria of extreme accomplishment at the end of the trip?

It works and it’s demonstrated in the following three narratives:


Carlton’s referring teacher, Jan Hudson, said she would normally not refer a student like Carlton to Summer Search but in 25 years of teaching at low performing schools she had never seen a student with his level of deficit who was still trying.

Katherine Kennedy, Summer Search leader, came to his high school graduation, the first in his family!


Linda comments, “Carlton is married to a beautiful woman with a family that he has always dreamed of. A visual learner he has developed a successful career in video production that takes him all over the world.  I attended his wedding and 22 years later he and Katherine along with the rest of us celebrated the 25th anniversary of Summer Search at the Four Seasons Fundraising event.”


Melzetta’s childhood was a revolving door between brief stays in section 8 apartments, homeless shelters, and living on the streets. Instability was her stability. She was special as she was still optimistic.


Linda comments, “Melzetta graduated with an MBA from the University of Rochester, Simon Business School and landed an amazing job at Comcast NBC Universal. At the annual fundraising dinner for the Summer Search Philadelphia office in the spring of 2015 she was the keynote speaker.”


“Leadership ability? I was always the first one to break a window and the first one to get into a fight!” As for focus and concentration, “A pencil dropped and I was on it.”


Linda comments, “Levar has overcome the challenges of extreme poverty and foster care. Today, he is fulfilling his lifelong dream of teaching at Morehouse University.”