Categorized as: on March 7, 2011.


Photo courtesy of the Summer Search Facebook page.

Editor’s Note: This high school program combines summer adventures and year-round mentoring, to give low-income U.S. kids self-esteem and college access–and 95% of their students matriculate to a college of their choice.

Mission:  The mission of Summer Search is to find resilient low-income high school students and inspire them to become responsible and altruistic leaders by providing year-round mentoring, life-changing summer experiences, college advising, and a lasting support network.

History:  The “summer search” model originated with San Francisco therapist Linda Mornell in 1990.  Linda bet that giving high school kids summer experiences with service, adventure, and travel, combined with year-round mentoring and college application guidance, could increase their chance of success.

Impact: Twenty years later, Summer Search operates 7 offices across the United States and serves over 1,200 high school students and 2,200 alumni. Students come from poverty (90% qualify for free/reduced lunch) and sometimes experience family struggles and neighborhood violence. They are selected for their altruism, resilience, and leadership, and are often first in their families to attend college.

Compared to an 11% rate of college graduation for their demographic group, Summer Search students score high:

  • 99.6% graduate from high school.
  • 95% matriculate to college.
  • 85% graduate from college.
  • Students and alumni get involved in giving, through community service and/or donations back into the scholarship fund.

Low-income children cost the country $500 billion when they become adults (NYTimes). Summer Search breaks this cycle.

Programs:  Too often, 21st-century American youth get cast into negative stereotypes, short on attention span and long on drama; but the kids of Summer Search do their generation proud.  They are humble, hard working, and unspoiled.  They have watched their parents work two and three jobs to make ends meet.  They have seen the effects of alcohol and drug addiction, gang violence, domestic violence, and abandonment. They are determined to create a future that departs from the past; still, many express a desire to bring their family culture and values along with them as they embark for college and careers far from home.

Which American kid DOESN’T deserve the chance to study hard and pursue their dreams?

As a vital part of the solution to our broken education system in this country, Summer Search supplements the efforts of families and schools in order to get more kids into and through college, so they can build their personal dreams and create stronger communities with their knowledge and skills.

Summer Search brings out the inherent qualities of leadership in their students with a four-pronged approach:

  1. Weekly mentoring sessions with highly trained staff mentors, from sophomore year to high school graduation
  2. Two summer experiential education programs, after sophomore and junior years
  3. College advisory services throughout high school
  4. Alumni support throughout college and beyond

Our connection:  We saw validity in this simple model that equalizes opportunity through holistic support of high school students in their academic and psychological development.  We heard their students speak about how scaling a mountain or navigating a cascade broke open a belief in themselves they never had before. We knew that the chance to climb onto an airplane for the first time and take summer courses at university or build homes in another country could open new paths to the world. So when Summer Search opened a branch near our office in Silicon Valley in 2005, we were one of the first funders to seed their scholarships.

Summer Search staff members bring kind understanding to their students as they go through a range of changes from sophomore year of high school through college graduation. Since the launch of the Silicon Valley office, they have actively recruited both girls and boys from 27 referring schools and organizations located throughout the Peninsula, Hayward, and San Jose, serving 130 students in 2010–with 98% of seniors starting college last fall.  Their cohort program matches students from the same high school, so instead of feeling isolated, Summer Search students can support each other’s growth and ambition.

What if every American student had the chance to work weekly with mentors, experience travel and service during the summers, and receive expert help with college and financial aid applications, from a caring local team that stays with her through the last three years of high school . . . and that stayed in touch throughout college and provided an alumni network of support, service, and job placement for life?

That would be an effective supplement to the efforts of our hardworking American families and inconsistent-quality schools.  That would be . . .

Equal-opportunity education, delivered by Summer Search.

To read about a Summer Search student, click here.

DONATE directly to Summer Search now.

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