I can smell summer coming on and I can hardly wait!

GYSO girl on lounge chair

Mmmmm…..if you need to, just stop and stare at this photo so you can really take it in….it’s coming. Hang in there.

Summer for us usually goes like this, my family sleeps in and loves relaxing together for about two days before my kids start fighting and driving me crazy leaving snack bags everywhere and lazing around.    I know they are supposed to be lazing around a little but at some point it kind of gets on my nerves so then it’s time to kick them out to go DO something.

Our family loves the loose freedom but in the end we do best with some plans on the horizon too.  Now that I have one son in college, I see the advantage of all of those different summer experiences (from family vacations to boy scout community projects and summer camp) and how they helped shape him into the guy he is today.

Knowing what we know now about college, we think a little more strategically about the growth that we’d like to see in our other two boys and try to build some activities that encourage that growth during the weeks of summer.

I talked with Jessica Givens of All in One Academics about how to decide where to direct my kids for the summer and I learned so much that I just had to share it with you.  Jessica is also the author of Get Your Summer Strategy On and holds summer weekly sessions to help high school rising seniors flesh out their college application essays through discussion of their experiences.  I knew she would be just the right girl to discuss “experiences” with.

Ivy:  Jessica, remind me briefly how you got into this business of tutoring and guiding kids on the college application process.

Jessica:  I was in dental school and got a job working for the Princeton Review company helping with admissions essays and I was also an SAT, MCAT and LSAT instructor.  I decided that I didn’t want to become a dentist but that I loved helping people discover who they are through their strengths.  My husband and I own our business together and have been helping guide students for the last 11 years.  We LOVE them.  We understand them and we have a way that just works and connects with them.

GYSO - guy with binoculors

Ivy: What made you start to look at how students spent their summers and how to help them GET THEIR SUMMER ON?

Jessica: Ha! Well, summer is the ideal time for a student to delve into their personal and community passions.  During the school year, they are busy with sports, grades and their extra-curricular activities but summer allows them the chance to explore those interests at a deeper level.

GYSO- girl camping
 I encourage them to try things; start a little business or do a research project, help in their community or travel.  Summer activities make for great experiences and these lead to an interesting student that makes for an interesting college application.

GYSO - girl travelling

Ivy: What trends or changes have you seen in the last 2-5 years in the kids that you work with?  And, you work with only high school age kids right?

Jessica:  Yes, we work with high school students.  We used to just look at the student and their academics and extra-curricular and think “how can we help you get into the college you want to go to?” Fine.  Now, though, we have such a good relationship with our students that they call us from college for advice about summer jobs or internships or help deciding which classes to pick and we realized “Hey, we don’t want to just help them get into college….we want to help them become great people!”  We are looking at their longterm success as healthy, hard working individuals rather than just checking boxes to get into college.  Summer provides incredible opportunities to help them experience some valuable lessons that achieve that end.

Ivy:  Now you’re talking like a parent!  We want them to become great people too ….but then there’s the competitive rat race to get into college so what’s a parent to do?

Jessica:  We think that if you look at your child and decide the kind of person you want them to be….compassionate, disciplined, responsible, confident, curious, independent….and then encourage them to take opportunities for that kind of growth, then you will have both; a kid that colleges want AND a kid with the internal compass to be a great citizen.  Start by taking an honest look at your own child and then thinking about how you want them to grow this summer.

GYSO-COOperative rock

Ivy: Ahh, that makes total sense.  So, choose opportunities to help stretch and strengthen certain areas….like summer camp for independence and community service for compassion?

Jessica:  Yes.  For instance, we’ve seen an incredible rise in entitlement in kids.  Parents need to be honest with themselves about what they are dealing with in their child and then work on fixing those bits.  An entitled kid may just need to go get a job so that they have a better understanding and appreciation for work and money.  I would encourage parents to discuss finances with your kids, including their summer plans.  Tell them the budget and brainstorm on ways to earn or raise the money if it’s a summer program with costs.  Some summer programs can be expensive but if they contribute by working a little or starting a kickstarter campaign or writing a letter to relatives then they have a vested interest in their program and they also have a better understanding of the costs involved.  Parents should talk about the numbers and not be cavalier about the costs.

Colleges want to see a kid with purpose and focus and their summers should show that.  Colleges can see straight though a summer program that is just a plush vacation to zip line in the jungle versus a marine biology research program on a sailboat for a student that loves fish and science.

Ivy: Yes, and I know we talked earlier and you suggested helping stream line their passions within the choices that we make with them related to building their character. For example, my son is taking Chinese and might consider doing some volunteer work with the Chinese community center which would continue his understanding of the culture as well as strengthen his “helping and service” muscle. You suggested helping them look for continuity within their interests and passions so that they continue to build on them.  Correct?

Jessica:  Yes, when a student has a chance to explore different facets of an area of interest then it can lead to a deeper understanding of that subject and they may find out that it leads to a passion for them.  They need opportunities to go deeper in their interests.

Ivy:  Thank you so much Jessica for giving us your thoughts.  We are definitely ready to get our summer on at our house!

So friends, I know this information is mainly directed at parents of high school kids but I hope you can get something valuable for your younger kids, grandchildren or friends with kids this age too.

Here are a few summer program companies that Jessica recommended:

Rustic Pathways

Sail Caribbean

ID Tech (Technology classes/camps for ages 6 and up)

A few summer programs that we have had experience with and can recommend:


Summer Discovery

In case you want to read more, here is another interview with Jessica Givens: College Xpress Interview with Jessica Givens

Do you guys already know what your kids are doing this summer?  We are still working on it!  Let me know if you have any summer ideas to share with all of us, just fill them in on the reply box below.  It takes a village to raise these little Sprigs, right?  Oh, Martha!  There’s the answer to your question!  Sprig stands for kids!  Our kids and grandkids, our sprigs!

Happy planning!





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