Summer Search starts by getting referrals from teachers and principals -- people who see kids at school every day. They identify students who demonstrate potential for reflection, altruism and performance -- and part of the reason for Summer Search's success is the difficulty of the screening process. It's a rigorous screening, and these kids come from backgrounds so unlike most of ours that we can't imagine the kind of things they face on a day-to-day basis (parents who have died or are otherwise out of the picture, abuse, neglect, poverty, crime and violence in their neighborhoods, and so on).
Once they enter the program, students participate in four aspects of the Summer Search program.
- Each student is assigned a mentor and meets with their mentor for weekly sessions. The mentor helps coach the student, give them insight into their behavior, help them with any problems they are having, and generally gives emotional support. A big emphasis is placed on helping the student to be accountable for their actions.
- Each student gets a scholarship to take two trips, one in the summer before the junior year, and one in the summer before the senior year. These trips are designed to build the student's confidence in his/her abilities, to show them the broader world out there (a lot of these kids have never been outside Philadelphia -- some have never been outside the particular neighborhood where they grew up, let alone left the city or state) and help the student gain valuable experience. Past trips have included participating in Outward Bound, community service trips to the Dominican Republic, study abroad programs in China, and other amazing experiences.
- Each student gets help in applying to colleges, including individualized help with the admissions forms and financial aid counseling. Over 90 percent are the first in their family to go to college, so things like paperwork and deadlines, that might not be a big deal when you're used to them, prove much more difficult for Summer Search kids.
- Each student participates in a host of "alumni" services, like helping them with networking events, providing internships and finding mentors for them. They also receive continued mentoring through the first two years of college. You might not realize it, but the first two years of college are critical for Summer Search kids. They are away from home for the first time, feeling isolated and overwhelmed as so many college freshmen do, but they also don't have tons of financial support or sometimes emotional support. They may get calls from family members saying "You need to quit school and get a job" or they may have trouble getting used to the new workload that college demands. The mentoring process really helps these kids keep their eyes on the prize: a college degree that will help them break out of the endless cycle of poverty.
The results are phenomenal. Consider some of the statistics. The U.S. Department of Labor says that only half of low-income students graduate from high school; a whopping 99.6 percent of Summer Search participants do. If you look at low-income ninth-graders, only 11 percent of them are statistically going to complete a four-year college degree -- eleven percent! But 85 percent of Summer Search participants in post-high-school educational programs are on-track to graduate.
All of these statistics are kind of bland, though, compared to the experience of actually meeting a Summer Search participant. Tom and I have been at various events and part of the program is that Summer Search participants and their parents are expected to help pay it forward by telling their stories in person and in print. These kids are so bright, so enthusiastic, and so proud of what they've accomplished. Their parents tell stories that will make you cry, admitting how difficult it was to let their children go to other states or countries, how much they missed them, but how proud they are of all their child has achieved.
Sounds pretty amazing, no?
Here's where you can help, even in a small way. Right now, I am organizing a Go-Knit-In-Your-Hat fundraiser to benefit Summer Search Philadelphia. I'm still figuring out the exact logistics, but the general idea is that anyone who contributes to Summer Search Philadelphia will be entered in a type of raffle to win fabulous, fiber-y prizes. (I will post a separate blog post entry explaining the procedure later in the month.)
I would really like to raise some cash to help out this amazing program, so I need your help. Right now, I'm looking for prizes. I will, of course, include some fabu Black Bunny Fibers prizes -- probably a spinner's basket full of handdyed roving, and a knitter's basket with yarn and patterns -- and I will also offer up one of my author's advance copies of my new book, personally autographed for you....perhaps I will even offer to do a custom dye job for someone and create a colorway based on the winner's preferences.
But those of you who read my blog who are in the business, might I prevail upon you to offer up a donation of something to use as a prize? Perhaps if you are a yarn company, you might offer up a prize consisting of some of your fine yarns? I will sing your praises forever. If you are a designer, you might offer up a signed copy of your latest book, or a collection of your patterns in paper or PDF form. If you are a publishing company perhaps you might show your appreciation for my unceasing dedication to book reviews by offering a book or selection of fiber-related titles. You can leave a comment if you're sure I can track you down, or leave your email or use the sidebar to contact me.
Thanks in advance.