What is a Smart Journey?

Emma has a passion for foreign languages. She spent four summers in three different language immersion programs and finished high school fluent in Spanish and French.

Jacob’s interest in the Humanities led him to a program in Scotland....while studying British History, he also explored a historic town and lived with students from around the world.

Nadine does not have a focus in a specific subject but wanted to learn more about global issues and have the experience of living away from home prior to college.  She attended an enrichment program at an university.

Kevin knows he wants to further his study in math and science but wanted to stay close to home. He chose a local program with an engineering focus.

Amanda wanted to explore another way of life. She went on a student trip to Vietnam and as part of her trip lived with a local family.

Dan’s goals were to increase his photography skills. He joined a specialized photography program to explore a new part of the world, practice his craft and create work for his developing portfolio. 

Although the teens described above have different interests, they all attended an academic enrichment or meaningful travel program during the summer....i.e. they went on a “Smart Journey.”  

As you read this post, some of you may say “my middle/high school student has enough pressure and homework during the school year, why would I have them spend part of their summer focused on anything academic or put them in what could be an uncomfortable situation?!”

Now consider why a “Smart Journey” should be of interest

:Meaningful Engagement is Relaxing

As Elizabeth Wissner-Gross states in the book What High Schools Don’t Tell You, “Many parents wrongly equate decompressing with sitting idly….but sometimes the structure of either an organized program or scheduled plan of activities can be far more relaxing and fulfilling than whiling away time or simply “hanging out.”  Thus, teens can “relax” by exploring an existing interest in-depth without the pressure of grades.  They can focus on the joy of learning and may gain an edge in developing an area of expertise. Conversely, they may develop a new interest or be exposed to different cultures and traditions.

Living Independently is Good Practice

Students who live away from home have the opportunity to develop independence and resilience. This may also increase their confidence and leadership skills. Thus, when they go to college, they can focus on academics and co-curricular activities.  They will have had experience in living independently among their peers.

Peer Influence Is Significant

The majority of students who elect to attend summer enrichment programs are focused and ambitious.  In addition, many programs require an essay, transcript and/or a teacher recommendation.  It is always a benefit to keep company with students who value learning and education.

A “Demonstrated Interest” is Attractive

I’ve heard several admission officers state “I am looking for a well-rounded class, not a well-rounded student.”  Admission officers seek out students who have developed an area of expertise and/or have had unique experiences. This makes the class as a whole more interesting. Thus, students who have completed summer enrichment courses may have an edge in college admissions.

How to Evaluate Summer Enrichment Programs

Understanding the details of a summer enrichment program enables you to make a good match between the program’s characteristics and your teen’s personality and goals.  This insures they will have a fun and “Smart Journey.”  Your teen achieve greater independence and confidence as well as build subject matter knowledge.  The following factors should be considered when researching various programs.

Interest Assessment 

Discussions with teens should assess both their interest and level of commitment. These conversations will determine the most optimal program for them. They will be thinking about the following:

*Commuter or residential program?  If residential, have they ever lived away from home?

*Scope of program: Do they want a superficial exposure to an interest or one that is more in depth?

*Cultural Travel: Are they the type of individual open to new experiences? Are they willing to “rough it” a bit?  They will not be eating the same foods and will likely have reduced access to technology.  Evaluate your teen’s willingness to handle the unexpected that comes with traveling and living in a different place and/or culture.

Application Requirements

Programs that require transcripts/an essay and/or a teacher recommendation tend to get more focused students. These programs inject plenty of fun while also enabling your teen to be with students who respect the goals and values of the program. When applying and getting into the program takes some degree of effort, teens tend to be more committed. 

Focus and Rigor

Your teen may be “interested” in a particular discipline such as engineering but if they have never explored this topic in depth, it is not advisable to send them to a month long research program.  An overview program of various fields of engineering would be more advantageous. In addition, resist equating “rigor” with a graded program.  The Middlebury Interactive Language (MIL) program is very rigorous.  It requires a pledge of 24/7 immersion in the target language.  Although MIL does a pre and post language assessment, it is not “graded.” 

Program Research

If possible, ask to talk with parents/students who are not on the website.  Although a parent/student will be “selected” by the program, a live conversation can be very enlightening.

Overall schedule

Ask about the overall schedule.  If the program is residential, are there planned activities in the evening and on the weekends?  Who supervises them? How much unstructured time is there?  Where do the students live?  

Living Accommodations

If the program requires students to have a roommate, respect that.  It is not advisable to ask for special accommodation (unless there is a medical necessity).  Living with a “random” roommate is part of the experience.  In addition, having a roommate will enable your student to meet other teens as they “share” the new friends they have both made.  It is also one of the aspects of a residential program that helps prepare students for college.  The roommate may or may not become their “best friend” but they should learn to be respectful and cordial.

These are just a glimpse of the many factors we consider when working with your teen to find the optimal enrichment program.