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These Summer Camps For Teens Teach Effective Social Activism

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Placard for teen activists that says today we march; tomorrow we vote.

“A generation of activists.”

That’s how Richard West, lead instructor of the Pre-College Politics, Activism and Leadership Institute at Emerson College in Boston, describes the teenagers of today. And high school students are lining up to take their activism to the next level at summer programs like Emerson’s.

The institute and other political-action programs offer young people a way to channel passion into thoughtful and informed action, West said.

“You can express a viewpoint on Facebook, but that’s different than expressing a viewpoint to decision-makers,” West said, adding, “A lot of people look at a teenager as having no credibility.”

But, by exploring issues in more depth, and learning how to present their views thoughtfully, teens can gain that credibility, West noted.

And for Nora Kramer, founder and director of Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp, it’s not just a question of knowing what to say, but also having the courage to say it.

“I think a lot of our campers get made fun of for the things that they care about,” Kramer said. “There’s consequences to them speaking up or taking some action for their cause.”

Programs like YEA Camp, where Kramer works to create “a culture where it’s cool to care,” can help young people who feel isolated in their beliefs back home to have a sense of community, Kramer said. These programs also aim to help young people become more comfortable with public speaking, or confronting challenges to their beliefs.

The takeaway for her campers, Kramer says, is huge.

“It’s very empowering to feel like you can make a difference on these issues,” Kramer notes. “The benefits of that are so far-reaching for all our campers.”

The current political climate has sparked interest in the Emerson program, West said.

“There’s an appetite for stability,” he explained. “The binary nature of politics has people not wanting to be part of a generation that’s sticking their heads in the sand.”

Kramer agreed, noting that while the issues that fire her campers’ passions have changed over time, the need to empower young people is no different than when she founded her program.

“We have no shortage of problems in our world,” Kramer notes, but adds that she has seen increased interest and awareness about activism over the past few years.

Here’s a look at what these and other programs offer for teens who want to get more active in their communities:

ACLU Summer Institute, Washington, DC

Presented in partnership with nonprofit organization The Close Up Foundation, this eight-day residential program for rising high school juniors and seniors offers a focus on legal and policy issues surrounding social justice and civil rights. Students work in small “homerooms” and hear from guest speakers in policy and activism fields, and visit educational sites in the area such as the National Museum of American History.

Dates: July 18-25

Cost: $2,895

Admissions: Online application, essay question, teacher recommendation

Deadline: Feb. 15

Activism & Entrepreneurship Teen Camp, Santa Barbara, CA

This non-residential five-day program organized by Global Good Impact introduces young people to nonprofits, businesses and government leaders to explore solutions and change-making. Students have the opportunity to create multimedia projects such as videos and websites.

Dates: July 24-28

Cost: $595 (discount available for Global Good Impact members)

Admissions: Online form (short-answer)

Deadline: Rolling deadlines until start of camp until capacity is reached

Capital Region Institute for Human Rights Summer Symposium, Latham, NY

Catering to both high school students and teachers, this multi-day, nonresidential program focuses on empowering students to take action to support human rights globally and locally. The program is “rooted in a study of … the history of the Holocaust, and contemporary genocide,” and allows students the chance to hear firsthand from survivors of human rights abuses, as well as discussing topics such as digital literacy, fake news and racial justice.

Dates: July 9-11

Cost: $125

Admissions: Online registration (opens in February)

Deadline: June 30

Pre-College Politics, Activism and Leadership Institute, Boston

This weeklong civics crash course on the campus of Emerson College gives students entering grades 10-12 a deep dive into the ways in which communication can foster civic engagement and activism in various forms. The Monday-Friday program (includes residential options) culminates with presentations delivered by students, who are also asked to create a “Speech of Advocacy” that they will deliver to a constituency in their own community.

Dates: July 22-Aug. 4

Cost: $2,495, plus $1,190 room and board and $60 application fee

Admissions: Online application, statement of purpose, essay, teacher recommendation, resume

Deadline: May 14 (April 16 for international applicants)

Pre-College Summer Journalism Institute, Boston

Located on the campus of Boston University and hosted by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, this two-week residential summer program gives students ages 15-18 the chance to engage in real-time journalism, reporting on events and stories within the city of Boston. The program combines classroom time with time spent reporting in the field, as well as free time to socialize and explore the city.

Dates: Three sessions: June 25-July 6, July 9-July 20, July 23-Aug. 3

Cost: $2,600, plus $900 room and board

Admissions: Online application, school transcript, letter of recommendation, writing sample, letter of interest

Deadline: May 31 (discounts for early registration)

Young Women’s Leadership Institute, New York City

One of several pre-college programs offered at Barnard College for rising high school juniors and seniors, the YWLI focuses on “leadership through a feminist lens.” Students will complete classroom assignments with college faculty, meet with women in professional leadership roles, and collaborate on a hands-on project using skills learned throughout the session.

Dates: June 24-July 2

Cost: $3,800 (includes room and board), plus $95 health services fee

Admissions: Online application, teacher recommendation, counselor or principal recommendation, high school transcript

Deadline: May 28

Youth Empowered Action Camp, Charlton, MA, and Idyllwild, CA

YEA Camp focuses on empowering young people to turn their passions into action. Each camper selects an “Issue Of Importance” and develops a plan for pursuing change around their issue during the week-long program. New this summer is a camp for adults, in upstate New York.

Dates: July 14-21 (Massachusetts), Aug. 4-11 (California)

Cost: $1,600

Admissions: Registration forms available on line. Would-be campers are asked to say how they might use their camp experience in their communities.

Deadline: Rolling deadlines until start of camp until capacity is reached

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