Summer youth program prescribes games, academics, and a dose of adulthood

One of the weirdest – and best – moments of Brandon Marin’s summer so far was a team-building game he played during orientation for Puente’s Youth Leadership and Employment Program, called “Moles.” Students had to balance on tree stumps in groups, and find ways to work together to avoid falling off.

“We all had to share a stump. It’s a small stump. And we all had to, like, hold on to each other so we didn’t fall off. We all laughed a lot,” says Marin.

That night at YMCA Camp Jones Gulch (one of the first sleep-away camp experience for many of these students), the group bonded around a campfire. Marin’s cabin stayed up past midnight, telling local ghost stories and having an animated and insightful conversation about current issues for youth . It changed how he saw the other kids at school, especially the ones he doesn’t talk to.

“I’ve never really hung out with the cool kids, I guess” Brandon has focused more on school and family.

Orientation offered the first surprises of the summer for the 34 students in Puente’s youth program. In its tenth year, the program continues to draw a mix of participants aged 14 to 21 – boys and girls, Latino and Anglo – with the promise of a paid summer internship. Students get to work in the education sector, as summer camp counselors, and at regional nonprofits and companies. They emerge strong and confident with a set of marketable job skills, new friends, and an incomparable experience.

The work is only part of it. It’s about improving students’ academic performance at school, building a vision for college, helping them put together an updated resume and cover letter, and exposing them to the world of adulthood – as Marin discovered last summer. The athletic sophomore credits his first summer with Puente, as a freshman, with a new perspective on the value of work and getting good grades at school.

Youth at their program orientation.

Youth at their program orientation.

“I feel like I’ve matured a lot more compared to last year. The program’s intensive. I realized that when I got to high school I needed to do better,” he says.

To drive the point home at orientation, Puente asked a panel of recent high school graduates to discuss important academic requirements for graduation. A separate panel of college students and graduates spoke openly and frankly about the college experience and how to be better prepared. Puente staff also personally work on-on-one with students on their summer reading projects to help them have a strong start at school in August.

“This program is very unique. We do a very good job of embracing education and having that be a part of everything we do, from beginning to end,” says Puente Education Director Noel Chavez.

The importance of education may seem obvious, but not to some students in Pescadero, who sometimes have remedial schoolwork in the summer or earn barely passing grades. Adrian Amezquita-Martinez, 14, nearly failed his freshman year. This is his first summer with Puente.

“My mom wanted me to do it. l’m struggling in school and it would really help boost up my grades and my GPA,” says Amezquita-Martinez, who only just avoided summer school. He recently decided to go to a four-year college so he can get the best possible job to support his family. His mother is single and raising three children with what she can earn working in agriculture.

He and his cohort will be having lots of fun this summer, too. Puente is sponsoring field trips to UC Berkeley, Santa Clara University, the San Jose Museum of Art and San Francisco’s Mission District.

This year, students will also learn about film editing, thanks to a partnership with NV4Y, An outreach project of the League of Women Voters of South San Mateo County and Palo Alto. They will use their camerawork and creativity to tell their own stories, with the goal of making a film from scratch and presenting it to the group at the end of the summer.

“We live in a part of Silicon Valley where everything is technology-driven. They’ll learn a lot about each other and from each other. They’ll learn they can create their own stories and have a positive impact on the community,” says Chavez. Orientation also included CPR training, a workshop on sexual health, and tips on providing good customer service.

For many youth, the best part is what they learn on the job. Depending on their age, interests and level of experience, they could be working at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, or at Cañada College, mentoring high school students – two new internships Puente helped create this year. They could be supervising preschoolers at the Half Moon Bay Library or be counselors, and role models, to the younger kids attending summer camp.

What Brandon Marin wants this summer is the chance to learn on the job. He wants to be a radiologist someday. But for now, since he is taking summer classes, he’ll be learning how to interact with co-workers and the public at the Puente office in Pescadero, while Adrian supports the local district Panther Camp working in the classroom assisting the teacher.

We are grateful for the generous support of Kim and Philip Schiller, the Sobrato Family Foundation, Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, the La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District, Wells Fargo and many individual donors who all help make our Youth Leadership program possible in 2016.


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