Your teen’s too old for summer camp, too cool to babysit and too reluctant for a Mcjob. Now’s the perfect time for a “gap summer” once-in-a-lifetime experience. There’s an endless variety of innovative programs to help fill the summer weeks in a really meaningful way. Your kid could find himself doing anything from excavating an archaeological site to earning a school credit in a canoe. Many programs offer scholarships or work opportunities. To find a program, ask school guidance counsellors, ideally in the fall, or visit eduglobe.com, a searchable database for educational travel, student exchanges and overseas volunteering. Here are a few to consider.
LEARN A LANGUAGE
To really learn a language, you have to live it. Immersion programs combine travel, language instruction and fun outings. During the summer Explore program, teens soak up a second language in classes, in residence on university and college campuses across the country — even at the beach. In five weeks, students will improve their French conversational skills more than they would during a year of once-weekly school instruction, says Christian Violy, the director of the Explore program at CollÃ¨ge Universitaire de Saint-Boniface in Winnipeg.
The details: For students in Grade 11 through university. A $2,000 bursary (by lottery in March) covers tuition, meals and accommodation. Student pays transportation from the airport to the college and personal expenses. See My Explore.
Your teen might also like: Summer Work Student Exchange, ages 16 to 17. Students in different provinces swap families, and live and work in their second language. See Summer-Work.com.
PURSUE A PASSION
Is your teen into bugs, ballet or building robots? Enrichment programs enable kids to explore their interests with experts and like-minded teens. At age 14, Miranda Thyssen from Montreal attended The Shakespeare School in Stratford, Ont. With other teens from across North America, she learned drama techniques, saw a professional play daily and acted in a production for the families. “She made friends for life,” says her mom, Kathe Lieber. “She really bloomed.” With her polished performing skills, she’s branched out into public speaking and is competing internationally.
The details: For teens aged 13 to 18. Bursaries available (apply from January to the first Friday in March). See Stratford Festival (under courses).
Your teen might also like: Pearson Seminar on Youth Leadership (ages 15 to 18). Teens passionate about social justice, ecological sustainability and international awareness can learn leadership skills at Lester B. Pearson College in Victoria, B.C. See Pearson Seminar on Youth Leadership.
CATCH A CREDIT
Tani Weber, 16, from Dundas, Ont., earned a Grade 12 gym credit while hiking for 17 days in the Rocky Mountains. On this Outward Bound course, Tani’s memorable moments include standing
awestruck on a mountain summit and completing her outdoor “solo” — 48 hours alone. “I gained a lot of confidence in my outdoor skills,” she says. Kathleen Finlay, a course advisor, says participants are “left with a feeling of inner peace and self-confidence, like they can take on the world.”
The details: Credit courses for students in Grade 10 or higher. Non-credit programs for younger teens. Bursaries are available and students are encouraged to fundraise. See Outward Bound.
Your teen might also like: Boyd Archaeological Field School. Get down and dusty excavating a site in greater Toronto for three weeks while learning about archaeology. See Toronto and Region Conserve.
Amy Baskin is a Guelph, Ont. writer who relished six weeks in Chicoutimi, Que., on an Explore immersion program when she was 16.
The Best Summer of My Life
When I was 16, I applied to Shad — a science, technology and entrepreneurship program held in July at universities across Canada — because it sounded like a great blend of learning, travelling and meeting new people. I chose the Dalhousie University Campus in Halifax since it has a strong marine biology program.
I was nervous about going since I didn’t know anyone else. I wondered if everyone would be cliquey, but we had so much in common. I made close friends from across Canada. We still chat on MSN and have regular reunions.
I loved living in residence and going to lectures on cool topics including cryptography and how Magneto (from X-Men) levitates. My favourite memories are camping in the rain, kayaking on the ocean and singing on the bus.
Shad made me consider engineering as a career. It also increased my confidence about going away to university. (Check it out at Shad.ca.)
Leah Kesselman (Amy Baskin’s daughter) is a grade 12 student from Guelph, Ont.