ACADEMIC PROGRAMS If you had to conjure an image of a summer academic program — where kids actually choose to learn in the summer – you might think of a group of sedentary, pale, non-athletic kids who would rather be in the library than in a lake. Well, the idea I had before I visited several academic programs this summer was not too dissimilar. But, I was wrong! I saw vibrant places of experiential learning where young minds were nourished and young bodies challenged with unusual offerings.
Typically, the kind of child who would seek out an academic program in the summer is a little more cerebral than most and may not like the idea of sleeping in a bunk or perfecting their outdoor living skills. Parents should know, however, that there are options for kids, outside of traditional camping experiences.
Enrichment programs. For many years, there have been pre-college programs for high school kids, but more recently there has been a rise in enrichment programs for younger kids. Starting in 4th grade, a child could spend 1 – 6 weeks in an enrichment program where they would live at a boarding school or college campus in a dorm room, eat in a community dining hall, take classes of special interest, participate in recreational activities and take part in organized field trips. While there are one-week tech programs right here in St. Louis, you have to travel out of state to find these broad-based academic experiences for grade-school or middle-school age children.
You might think that such cerebral kids might need a break from academics for the summer. However, the program directors will tell you that the type of “academics” the kids are exposed to in an enrichment program is far different: how often does an AP track kid get to take dream interpretation or African drumming? These programs can give kids a break from the pressure cooker of competitive school environments and allow them to find a passion. I observed an improvisation class where kids were totally immersed in their silent acting. Perhaps, for some, a summer program surrounded by like-minded kids might be a welcome change from their year-round environment. I heard the story of a young man getting up in front of hundreds of kids to “perform” a complicated algebra problem at the end-of-session talent show to the delight and applause of his peers.
Kids tend to be over-structured during the year, so these types of program relish in the ordinary, like capture the flag or a game of risk. So often, today, kids do not have the neighborhood peer group to strike up a game of capture the flag or, in some urban areas, they do not have the green space. In this type of residential living, there is always a peer group for a board game or group pick-up game.
Pre-College Programs. For high-school age kids, there tends to be a broad-range of participants, from foreign students who want a taste of American culture to American students who want a taste of college. These programs give high school students the flavor of what it’s like to live on a college campus. In addition to academic study, each program offers SAT Prep (including essay writing), college visits, internship programs, leadership programs, community service options, a range of sports programs, visits to
local attractions, as well as weekend excursions to nearby cities. Most of these programs are offered in large, urban centers with access to multiple universities. The directors of these programs are always looking to provide unusual course offerings. Course studies range from Crime Scene Investigation (made popular by the reality-based CSI programs) to driver’s education, from medicine to acting for the camera. Rest assured, if you are looking for straight-up academics, those courses are there too.
Supervision and Academics. Though this age-group is more mature, they probably need more supervision, not less. Many universities offer coursework for high school aged kids, but only a few programs offer the type of residential supervision that would make the parent of a high schooler feel comfortable to send their child to live on a college campus. The other big piece is academics. Are you looking for a program where your child might take a calculus course for credit from a university professor, or are you looking for a break from the school-year rigor? Some programs have college students or graduate students passionate about their field teach the courses, while others have university professors teach.
When exploring a pre-college program, a parent should consider the following:
- What do the kids do in their free time? What is offered on the weekends?
- Can credit be awarded for a course?
- Is there any flexibility in changing courses after the program has started?
- What are the dorm arrangements? How are they supervised?
- What activities are optional (e.g. afternoon activities)?
- Can the kids walk into town alone?
- Can we see a syllabus of the class?
- Will I receive feedback at the end of the program on the students’ academic courses?
- Do I want my child to have a lot of independence, or very little?
Many parents are not aware of enrichment programs as a summer option for their child. If your child wants to go away, but is not interested in a traditional camp experience, this may be the way to go. If your child has outgrown his/her overnight camp experience and is looking for something new, this might be the option for you. If your child has never been away from home before and there is a looming fear of independence, this might be the perfect step into the college waters.
Jenny Wolkowitz is the Midwest consultant for Tips on Trips and Camps and can be reached at (314) 432-8642 or jenny@TipsonTripsandCamps.com. Wolkowitz is married and the mother of 3 children. In her earlier years, she was a day camper, an overnight camper, a counselor, a teen tour participant and a teen tour leader. She studied abroad in college and has traveled extensively throughout the world. She currently serves as Chairperson for a local day camp and on the boards of many community organizations.