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What Did You Do This Summer?

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

The days of summer suddenly seem all too few and it won't be long before kids are heading back to the classroom for the start of another school year, and with it, the inevitable first assignment: the “what I did over summer vacation” essay.

My essays would usually be about working at my dad's service station, playing sports, or going on Boy Scout camping trips.

I was part of Troop 50 in Sacramento and every summer we had the opportunity to spend a week up at Camp O-Ki-Hi located just above Sierra City in California. There, we would canoe and swim in the nearby lake, take hikes, fish, and work on merit badges. It was a lot of fun hanging out with friends, exploring, and learning together, and it remains one of my fondest memories.

Many of my classmates would enthusiastically write similar stories about going on family vacations, attending summer camps, playing sports, and other fun learning experiences, but there were always a few classmates that never had such stories to tell. Call it naivety or immaturity, but at the time, I never thought why that was.

As I got older, I began to realize that many kids, especially from low-income families and under-served communities, don't always have the means or resources to enjoy such experiences, with many never even having the chance to venture outside their own neighborhoods or cities. Without such learning opportunities, these kids often start the school year in a worse position compared to how they ended the previous school year.

This learning loss is often referred to as the summer slide. Research suggests that the extended summer school breaks cause the average student to lose up to one month of instruction, with students from low-income families being disproportionately affected. Over time, these effects are cumulative, and although it is not the sole reason for the widening achievement gap between students from high- and low- income households, it is a factor.

One thing that summer programs have resounding success at is broadening their young participants' horizons. Summer programs offer youth opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise experience. Although many summer programs are geared towards academic enhancement, they also offer a wealth of other benefits such as developing personal and social skills. Meeting new people, being self-reliant, and resourceful, can all boost their self-esteem and confidence.

A great example is EBAYC’s Camp Thrive in Oakland. Camp Thrive is a free four-week summer experience that lets youth campers be youth while gaining valuable learning and life skills.

About 200 under-served and at-risk Oakland middle school students participate in the program. The youth are assigned into one of four neighborhood-centric hubs making it easier for them to attend the daily activities. EBAYC also hires a number of leaders and apprentices, most of them previous Camp Thrive participants, to help run the Camp's various cohorts, and at the same time, learn valuable leadership, organization, and work skills.

Even with this large number of Camp Thrive participants, it only represents just a fraction of under-served middle school students enrolled within the Oakland Unified School District.

This year’s Camp Thrive theme, “The Power of Me,” was designed to challenge and engage students in a fun, collaborative environment as they build connections with themselves, their culture and their community. During the course of the four-weeks, campers experienced new learning opportunities including outdoor adventure activities such as hiking, biking, swimming, trail cooking, kayaking, and camping, hands-on projects, natural and cultural resource education, team building activities, and field trip adventures.

At Red String, we recognize how important summer youth programs are as places where kids can explore their interests, expand their knowledge, build lasting friendships, and experience new things. We are proud to be able to help fund Camp Thrive, as well as several other summer programs, including EXP's Summer Intern Program, City Surf Project's Surfing 101, and Larkin Street's Performing Arts Program, that help at-risk children and youth stay engaged and learning while having fun, and just perhaps, give them something exciting and interesting to talk or write about when they return to school.

(to be continued)

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