In order to run a successful summer program for juniors, you have to get students engaged. We’ve found that the best way to do this is by allowing students to select elective courses that speak to their passions and interests and use projects as the cornerstone of the curricula.
During the summer months when students are in the holiday mindset, it can be difficult in the beginning to pique their interest in going to class. Especially in locations such as New York City or London where there are so many exciting activities taking place later in the day. However, learning and improving their language skills is still the primary reason that their parents have chosen to send them, so attendance and interest in the classroom should be one of the most important aspects of a junior program. The classroom is also the best place for students from different nationalities and backgrounds to truly integrate and gain a deeper understanding about each other. What better way to do this than to have them work together in creating a film, telling a story through theatre or art pieces, choreographing a dance, learning a new sport, or putting on a fashion show? None that we can think of! All of which is still done through the target language. Learning through passions and getting to drive the project makes waking teens up in the morning a little bit easier!
In our experience, younger students really enjoy the organized, on campus activities and sports. Providing options for activities around the campus or residence will give students a sense of independence and allow them to select what feels more age appropriate. It’s still key to try and encourage all students to take part in group activities however. A younger participant might enjoy a scavenger hunt more, but if you introduce an attractive reward for the winning team, all ages will have a good time. On the other hand, if an afternoon activity is more focused on older participants, such as a shopping trip, some chaperones and activity leaders should invite the younger students to all go in a group together to shops that are more interactive. Encouraging teachers to work information about the daily excursions into part of their lessons is another way to ensure that all participants will be more engaged and gain more from the sightseeing trips. Teachers can gear the information towards the respective age groups.
All of our residences have at least a 3rd party manned security desk at the entrance between lights out and breakfast time if not for the entire day. Attendance is taken at breakfast and during class time to make sure all students are accounted for. Our ratio of 1 staff member for every 12 students ensures that no one gets lost during excursions around the city and participants are always required to stay in groups when given some time at a location. The meeting time and exact location are always repeated several times and a chaperone will often stay with the youngest participants. A good orientation on the first day is the easiest way to make sure participants know who to contact and where to find them. It also makes policies clear so that their safety is not compromised by others and following through with appropriate disciplinary action shows students that we take safety seriously. Nightly check-in, curfews and late night hall monitoring by staff members ensures parents that we know where their child is at all times. An emergency phone number and staff that is on call 24 hours a day makes it easy for parents, agents, or students to get in touch with someone in case of a problem.
Managing the expectations of the parents and of the student is always the first step in getting off on the right foot in the first days of the program. It’s extremely helpful when agents talk through exactly what will and should happen at the airport upon arrival with both the family and the participant, and make sure the student understands what to do. The agent should confirm that they and the family has the correct emergency number of the school.
Most junior participants have at least a little less experience being abroad than adult learners, so helping them to understand that being open minded in regards to food and housing and the differences they might encounter will create a smoother transition.
We recommend that agents seek out a program for juniors that is clearly highly organized and highly supervised with diverse course program offerings.
The first question parents will ask their child is if they had fun. This is the most important part!
And it’s the easiest question for agents to ask former participants of various programs when contemplating which junior programs to use in the future. It’s very easy for agents to get tied up in a difficult situation with parents while the program is running because junior programs are by nature much more sensitive and volatile than adult ones. Perspective is key! Try to help parents look at the big picture and only focus on the most important issues that affect comfort and safety or academic problems.
Michelle Reynolds, Teen Programs Director, Rennert International, New York & Miami, USA