Written by: John Brandon – Executive Director, MCCOY, Inc.
We focus a lot on the “academic learning” that takes place in summer programming—and rightly so because the research shows the “slide” backwards that can take place for so many children and youth who are not involved in high quality summer experiences. But there are many other areas in which young people grow in summer programs as well, other skills that are honed, developed, and challenged during the course of the summer break. One of those areas that was recently brought home to me was the development of the skills and knowledge it takes to work in a summer youth program.
In Indianapolis, summer youth programs employ young people ages 16-21 as junior counselors, program assistants, and activity assistants. For many of them, this is the first experience of the world of work and having to measure up the expectations of an employer for the first time. On top of that, their first job has put them into a position of major responsibility because the happiness and well being of somewhere between 10 and 50 children depends upon them fulfilling their responsibilities at the highest possible level! Talk about a high pressure learning experience! Surely, no standardized test can be as tough as guiding ten 8 year olds through a spelling game when they would much rather be swimming. With the guidance of their more experienced supervisors and co-workers, these fledgling youth development professionals learn how to be adaptable to changing circumstances, like the guest speaker not showing up; they hone their crowd management skills when the electricity goes out during a storm; and they use critical thinking skills when the directions given to the bus driver leads them to the wrong city park.
China Duff, a student at North Carolina State University spent her summer working in a local youth program, told me, “I learned that it all come down to building trust with youth. You really have to take the time to get all the children that you work with to trust and believe in you. Once the child can trust and believe you, they will give you the respect you want and the time together with them will be so much richer both for them and for you. Working with the children this summer has taught me that I truly belong working with children and want to help as many children as I can.”
Sounds like her summer was truly a great learning experience. Learn more about the importance of summer learning experiences for youth at summerlearning.org.