Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Summers Can Change the Way We Think About School

Many of the experiences I had as a teenager affected the person I am today, but when I question which experience I had is most closely tied to what I am doing now, the answer is undoubtedly summer camp, which for me was really more like summer school. My first experience with "summer school" was the day after my 8th grade graduation when I left the suburbs of NYC to spend my summer in rural New Jersey. It was during this time that I was able to begin my study of international affairs, a subject not offered at my public high school, but that I thought would be interesting.

This "summer school" experience allowed me to spend three summers studying international affairs at different universities and as direct result of that experience I am now continuing this academic pursuit in college. This occurred for two main reasons. First off, my summers exposed me to interesting and new subject matter that was not offered during the school year. The public school curriculum in New York State focuses on core topics like English and Math, but unfortunately does not leave much room for topics like international studies or foreign affairs. So the fact that taking classes over the summer allowed me to explore this area was incredibly valuable. This experience also exposed me to different styles of teaching and learning that changed the way I looked at academic coursework on the whole which I found to be useful throughout my academic endeavors.

Secondly, my summers profoundly affected my worldview. For one of the first times in my life, I had the opportunity to study with students from a variety of different cultures and backgrounds. This exposure shifted my perceptions and re-shaped past misconceptions I had held as a result of growing up in a smaller suburban area. I found this experience to be enlightening in a way that few other experiences are and I consider this kind of exposure to be of the utmost importance to the social and emotional development of a young person.

Here at DCAYA, I am excited to be researching and reporting on new and existing educational and enrichment models like many of the Expanded Learning models we highlight. These models and the different programs that utilize them are imperative for developing well rounded students that can do more than the minimal coursework required for graduation. With these types of programs students can do what I did and follow their unique interests (which may or may not be covered during a traditional school day or year) while also discovering potentially new interests along the way. Without this opportunity, I may have never realized my full potential, or pursued international affairs in college. Through expanded learning opportunities, students learn how to go beyond the school day and see opportunities for learning all around them.

Lauren Batten is the summer intern at DCAYA where she is assisting in the organization's Expanded Learning work. Lauren is originally from Westchester County, New York and is a rising junior at the George Washington University.

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