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The happiest kids are in summer schools with this focus

OpinionThe happiest kids are in summer schools with this focus

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In the popular imagination, a childhood summer includes some combination of baseball, cookouts, road trips, pool parties, summer camp and maybe even a part-time job. It’s a beautiful image – but it’s also a dream.

The truth is this summer most kids will spend almost all of their time with what, statistically speaking, is their best friend: a screen.

On average, 13- to 18-year-olds spend nearly eight hours and 40 minutes on a screen every day. Without classrooms and teachers competing for their attention, it’s almost guaranteed that that number rises during summer vacation. In 21st century summers, it would seem children don’t need to be reminded to end the pickup baseball game and be home by dinner because they never left their house in the first place.

Camper

From New Hampshire to California, classically minded universities are taking high school summer camp to a transcendent level. (iStock)

Most are now aware that a screen-addicted summer (and life, for that matter) is a recipe for disaster. As Jonathan Haidt put it in his recent book “The Anxious Generation,” a phone-based childhood is at the root of a teenage mental health crisis of historic proportions. Parents and teachers can attest that screens are making kids agitated, isolated and unable to focus.

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But in dotted pockets across America, a growing number of young adults are bucking these trends and going where they can enjoy a very different kind of summer.

A few of those young adults are, at this very moment, attending something called the PEAK Summer program put on by Wyoming Catholic College. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Wyoming Catholic before, and, I admit, at first it felt strange. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I started speaking with a few of the students one-on-one.

Unlike almost every young adult I know, these students made eye contact. They weren’t fidgeting. And they weren’t constantly pulling their phone out of their pocket or purse to check an alert mid-conversation. That’s because at Wyoming Catholic, cellphones aren’t allowed

The high school students at the PEAK program have been getting a taste of this kind of tech-free life. Instead of scrolling, they’re backpacking. Instead of posing for selfies, they’re horseback riding. Instead of staring at an app, they’re analyzing their next foothold while rock climbing. 

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Sprinkled amid these outdoor adventures, they are also sitting down in seminar classes with their peers to discuss Plato, Democritus, Euripides and Beowulf. Their minds, freed from constant device distraction, are becoming capable of dwelling in the depth of ancient wisdom.

But these students are not alone. The organization I run, Classic Learning Test, collected a catalogue of novel summer programs that are uniting the beauty of God and man’s greatest creations together for a few weeks this summer.

For example, there is the Belmont Abbey Schola Program where young students will soon be white water rafting and hiking in the North Carolina mountains all while reading classic works that explore the concepts of justice and mercy.

At Mount St. Mary’s First Ascent program coming up at the end of June, kids will hike the forests surrounding campus while being led through conversations with their peers on the poetry of the Bible and what it means to have greatness of soul.

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The high school students flocking to Christendom College will spend time canoeing down the Shenandoah River, sitting in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and chatting by bonfires along with studying philosophy, literature and history.

From New Hampshire to California, classically minded universities are taking high school summer camp to a transcendent level.

Of course, a single summer program can’t overcome screen-induced myopia alone. But that’s not the point. For any parents lucky enough to send their child to one of these programs this summer – and those looking to do so in future summers – you’ll notice the start of the same change I saw at Wyoming Catholic. 

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Young adults returning home after a week or two seeing the stars and contemplating life will feel deep down that the world on their screen is too small for life.

Ironically, you’ll discover the happiest kids are those who went to summer school.

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