School’s out for summer. Now what?

Rachel Ladd is a CommonBond Advantage Services Coordinator at Yorkdale Townhomes in Edina, MN.

Think back—can you remember that last-day-of-school feeling? The promise of summer freedom is usually irresistible. But after the first week of sleeping in and playing video games all day, the boredom sets in. And when a parent works late, it’s tough for youth and their siblings to get rides to summer programs and events.

That’s when I hear from parents and youth alike: “Get me out of this house!”

As a youth worker in CommonBond’s summer programs, I listen to this need. I bring kids to the zoo, the science museum, the children’s theater, a bee keeping site, sporting events, and a tech lab to print 3D figurines (usually one of those very same video game characters!).

Summer programs with CommonBond are a time for youth to explore their interests freely, without being governed by curriculum or worksheets. Many of the youth we work with are significantly behind in school and feel cycles of pressure and shame in a traditional learning environment. Our youth programs meet kids where they’re at. We learn poetry by having a “rap-battle-style haikou-off.” We learn how to handle big emotions through storytelling. We focus on music by learning instruments and creating a band. We learn the hard work of gardening and environmental stewardship through our on-site vegetable garden. We then take the tomatoes, hot peppers, strawberries, and herbs we grew and learn cooking skills.

One of my favorite projects combined all sorts of learning into a project to better the community. The youth had been involved in the planning stages of a nearby park. While the park was being designed, it was an empty field. The students in the youth program and I decided to build park benches. Using hands-on lessons, we cut, arranged, and drilled the wood to create the benches. Then the youth painted them using words and pictures from their own home cultures. Every day, youth would come running into summer program to report how many community members they saw that day, sitting on their benches. I believe these lessons of community investment will follow them for the rest of their lives.

A parent recently told me, “CommonBond youth programs saved my son.” She explained that most of the low-income kids in the area didn’t have the support system to graduate high school. I’m excited to share that her son just graduated from college this past spring!

CommonBond provides kids a safe, encouraging, and academic place to grow and dream. The programming gives parents a break after long hours worked. And together, our efforts turn neighborhoods into communities.

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