Summer of Service Creates Positive Alternatives for Middle School Students

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Today’s guest contributor is the ICP Summer of Service Fellow Joshua Truitt.

On Tuesday, April 21, 2009, President Obama took a tremendous stride toward supporting youth civic engagement in the United States by signing the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act into law. Included in the legislation is funding for a new innovative program called Summer of Service (SOS).

A national SOS program — to help communities create positive alternatives for middle school students during summer vacations — was first proposed by Innovations in Civic Participation (ICP), an organization committed to increasing youth service opportunities in the United States and abroad. In the summer months, the lack of constructive activities and opportunities for young people often results in academic decline, risky behavior and an increased likelihood of failing to make the transition to high school. Yet, when young people participate in service activities they are better able to control their own lives in a positive way, avoid risky behaviors, strengthen their community connections and become more engaged in their own education.

A national SOS will enable a large number of young teens to participate in service as a “rite of passage” from middle to high school and provide opportunities for them to enter their teenage years with a positive experience that reinforces community connections, enlivens their education, and strengthens personal and civic values. At the same time, communities across America might find an important new resource in their own backyards – young people who are ready to serve, if only they are asked and provided the opportunity to do so.

High-quality SOS programs target authentic community needs through thoughtfully-designed service-learning activities that challenge young people to solve problems, build valuable life skills, reflect critically about their role in society, and pave the way for academic success in high school and beyond. Guided by teams of youth-adult partners, SOS programs require a sustained and intensive commitment over the summer months to plan, execute, reflect and recognize the contributions of young people as leaders in tackling critical community issues.

ICP worked with legislative staff of Senator Dodd and Representative DeLauro to draft the Summer of Service Act of 2007, and continued to help advance support, which led to SOS being included in the Serve America Act. The Summer of Service Act stemmed from ICP’s report written by Shirley Sagawa, Summer of Service: A New American Rite of Passage?, which details the need to engage young people in constructive opportunities during the summer months, particularly in the transition from middle to high school. The report also highlights existing initiatives of the type this legislation supports.

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act includes $10 million in funds for SOS programs and $10 million for $500 educational award grants for students who complete 100 hours of service through SOS programs. This legislation makes SOS funding available for programs that serve students in both middle and high school, but prioritizes those programs that enroll students in grades six through nine.

High quality resources and assistance to organizations interested in designing, implementing, evaluating and improving SOS programs, are also available on the Summer of Service Online Resource Center launched by ICP in August 2008. The Resource Center provides a forum for information exchange on SOS program design, implementation and evaluation. Available resources include tools for program management and curriculum design, information about funding opportunities and resources, published reports and research, a discussion forum, a program database and featured exemplary SOS programs. Thanks to a grant from Lumina Foundation for Education, ICP is continuing to develop and expand the Resource Center to ensure that local and national organizations and school systems have resources for creating high quality programs. Please contact Joshua Truitt at truitt [at] with materials and resources that could be added to the Resource Center or for more information.

A Program Design Toolkit to assist practitioners in the field with designing and implementing SOS programs will also become available on the Resource Center as a result of support ICP received from Lumina Foundation for Education. As a way of gathering information on model programs and best practices, as well as providing new content for the Resource Center, ICP will also be collecting and creating Program Insights—narrative and reflective multimedia presentations on successful SOS programs from 10 select projects in the field in Summer 2009.

Finally, an Evaluation Toolkit will be designed to provide local programs with a basic understanding of evaluation methods as well as a set of reliable tools that can be used by practitioners to generate data to assess both individual initiatives and the overall progress of programs across the field, and ultimately provide better evidence of program effectiveness. The toolkits will be finished at the end of 2009, so stay tuned!

ICP advances strategies for youth civic engagement by designing programs and policies, contributing to the knowledge base of the youth service field and building networks that result in many more young people being given the opportunity to engage in civic activities. These efforts have expanded opportunities for tens of thousands of young people throughout the world to connect with their communities through service. For more information, visit the Innovations in Civic Participation website.

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2 thoughts on “Summer of Service Creates Positive Alternatives for Middle School Students

  1. Middle school and service is what we are all about! We educate kids about how to look for the needs in their community, research the organizations that are meeting those need, and then we grant them some money to actually put their plans into action with the organization. They for a Project GIVE team of middle school students! About time that we recognized that the power to effect change needs to begin in middle school with more service learning in our school programs!

  2. I have just recently started tutoring a home bound 13 year old student who was hurt in a snow mobile accident this past January. She was in a coma on life support and not expected to live. I am looking for a service project for her to work on. Perhaps you could give us some ideas for our community or some local contacts.

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