By: Jariana Olukoga
Since 1990, the Summer Search program has had a deeply positive impact on dozens of high school students who have spent their summer vacations far from home, learning, teaching, building, and doing environmental projects and other public services.
Summer Search has a straightforward goal: Help all high school students, regardless of family income, to obtain a bachelors degree while learning what it takes to become a leader.
Participants get involved with Summer Search in their sophomore year of high school. The following summer, when they will be rising juniors, is when they experience a life-changing trip – the wilderness trip. They are usually gone from home from two to three weeks, and, like Merari Reyes, travel to places they have never visited.
A resident of Grove Hall, Reyes is a rising senior at the John D. O’Bryant school and for his first trip he went to Minnesota for a 15- day course consisting of canoeing and portaging. He described the trip as being very physically challenging, but the kicker is that he loves a physical challenge.
The students would wake up early each morning and were given a role of whether they were the cook, navigator, or timekeeper, he said. They had an ultimate destination so they canoed each day or portaged if they had to cross through land.
Reyes motivated himself each day of the trip by saying “I can do this.”
Says Liz Marino, executive director of Summer Search, “The summer trip experiences are really transformative and they expand how students view the world. … They are more powerful than one can imagine.”
Most recently, Reyes traveled to Liberia and Costa Rica through Summer Search with a program called Global Leadership Adventures. The trip was his first time out of the country. “This was the best experience, it brought so much joy and expanded my mind,” he said. “I learned about social problems around the world, and also economic and political.”
There were two parts to the visit to Costa Rica. For the first half of the trip the students did a lot of community service – planting trees, picking weeds, and clearing pathways. The other half of the trip, they stayed in the rain forest close by a volcano. There were two major projects the students could choose from: making chairs and tables out of cement and tires or gardening in a greenhouse.
Reyes chose the gardening project because he wants to be an environmental engineer.
All in all, Summer Search offers a posigtive program for students, especially for those who have never been out their own neighborhood. They gain strong leadership skills, meet new people, experience life outside their world, and much more. They also work with mentors who stick with them throughout high school and college, even after that.
“Summer Search provides it all,” said Marino.