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Summer School or Summer Camp? The YES Provides Education for Life

It seems like many teens these days are spending at least part of their summers taking high school courses, developing skills for their resumes and post-secondary applications, and taking on full or part-time jobs to save for their futures.

While I commend these teens for their focus, perseverance and for making responsible choices, I also think it’s so important for teens to round out their education, growth and development with learning opportunities that focus on their self-awareness, social emotional learning, and mental wellness. Making meaningful connections with peers and role-models, learning about inspiring new ideas, being challenged to try new things, and being immersed in the beauty of nature are experiences that will also help guide our futures and help us determine our central values and priorities.

3 Reasons Teens Looking to Succeed Should Attend The YES Summer Camp

1. In order to know where you’re going, you need to know who you are.

At The YES we put a lot of emphasis on self-awareness. In order to make good decisions, to be a good leader, or to be successful it’s important to know yourself. But what does that mean? It means digging deep to figure out what you value, what your strengths are, what makes you come alive, and what your priorities are.

So often we are told what’s important, whether those messages are explicit or implicit. Our families, friends, schools and the wider society tell us what’s important through the values represented in our school curriculum, our economic system, our religion or spiritual practices, or the broader messages represented in the media we consume, or the commercials we watch. Some of these values and messages might be helpful, positive, and true to who we are, but, inevitably, some are out of step with our true beliefs and inner-knowing. At The YES we are committed to helping teens get curious about who they are, what they value, and what their strengths are.

Marcus Buckingham, self-proclaimed founder of the Strengths Revolution and global researcher, says that less than 2 out of every 10 people report that they use their strengths every day at work. For Buckingham this is a huge problem and a huge opportunity. He defines strengths not merely as something you’re good at, but instead as something that makes you feel strong.

Think about the last time you got to do something that made you feel strong. What was it like? How did you feel after? Buckingham tells us that when workers are using their strengths, there’s greater work satisfaction, greater productivity, and greater employee retention, but figuring out your strengths is not as easy as looking at your report card. What you are good at is not necessarily what makes you feel strong. I’m especially good at alphabetizing files, but I feel strong when I help a team of people connect with themselves and each other to achieve a collective goal. I could go into secretarial work and spend my life at a desk colour colour coding and labeling, but I feel alive when I’m facilitating groups of people and building connections and relationships.

Teens are at an incredibly important stage in their lives where they’re being asked to start thinking about their futures. At The YES we believe the focus should be on self-awareness and on making decisions from a place of inner-knowing rather than trying to meet the expectations of others.

2. Connection is at the heart of a well-lived life.

For many people, and for an increasing number of teens, mental health and mental wellness have become a struggle. Part of this puzzle is the importance of self-worth, which I discuss here, but there are many factors that contribute to the rising prevalence of anxiety and depression in our society. Johann Hari, in his book “Lost Connections: Why you’re depressed and how to find hope,” and his associated TedTalk, determines that there are nine ways that people in developed nations across the world have become disconnected from the very things that maintain our mental health and wellbeing.

These nine forms of disconnection are, according to Hari, the nine causes of anxiety and depression. They include a disconnection from other people, meaningful values, meaningful work, the natural world and a hopeful and secure future.

At The YES we think there’s nothing more important than building a strong community of connections based on the values of care and respect. By establishing a strong container, we’re able to encourage each and every teen to get curious about who they are and feel safe to express themselves at our program. For many teens, they leave after a week of camp saying two things: the first is that they have never felt so supported to be themselves, and the second is that they made the best friendships they’ve ever had. At The YES we believe that this foundation is one that sets teens on the path to successfully living a meaningful, connected and fulfilling life.

3. Grades are not the only indicator of success– building your character is important too.

Whether it’s a scholarship application, or an after-school job, when you apply for an opportunity you’re going to be asked about your skills and experiences outside of school. Reviewers are looking for evidence that you’ve built character in multiple ways.

Skill building and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) are important components in developing a well-rounded character and being a well-rounded candidate for post-secondary institutions, scholarship applications, job applications, prestigious programs, interviews and the like.

At The YES we focus on building life skills for all the teens who come through our summer programs. Besides self-awareness, we also run sessions on co-operation and team building; communication and conflict resolution; diversity and inclusion; and leadership.

For anyone who has ever worked in a group or on a team (practically everyone), you’ll know that there’s nothing that’s more important than being able to work well with others. People who are able to communicate their ideas clearly and effectively; who are able to navigate conflict with assertiveness, compassion and skill; and those who are able to skillfully listen to others stand out in group projects, in the workplace, on sports teams, and in any other group focused on achieving a common goal. Unfortunately, so few people have the privilege of receiving communication and conflict training. At The YES we teach models and approaches for effective communication at every program we run. These skills are invaluable in the real world, and YES campers often come back years later to tell us how they’ve used their skills for years and they’ve set them apart on their teams and at their jobs.

We know that engaging in social emotional learning (SEL) not only helps to build resiliency in youth, it also has been shown to increase academic test scores by an average of 11% (Halbert & Kaser). By engaging in inquiry work, getting to know themselves, and building their skills and self-worth, teens also increase their academic test scores. By becoming engaged and connected, teens can increase other indicators for success.

In order to recognize the important training and skill development YES participants receive, The YES Leadership Academy awards Level 1 Leadership Achievement Certificates to all participants at Roots and Pathways programs. These certificates are a great way to represent the important learning youth have completed at The YES on their resumes, post-secondary applications, scholarship applications and in their job interviews.

Sign up for The YES Summer Programs here.


Halbert, Judy, and Linda Kaser. Spirals of inquiry: For equity and quality. BC Principals' & Vice-Principals' Association, 2013.


About the Author:

Chelsea Lake (she/her) is the Executive Director of The Youth Excellence Society and holds a Masters of Education in Leadership Studies from the University of Victoria.

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