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YouthEntity column: Summer experiences to help keep teens on track

Remember that last day of school? The feeling of freedom, three gloriously unscheduled months ahead of you, the world your oyster? As kids we waited all year for summer vacation to arrive, and when it did, it went by far too quickly.

Summer is a time to recharge, but also a chance for high school students to explore areas of interest during time which is truly theirs. But how can they take advantage of summer break to gain unique experiences that may otherwise be more difficult to pursue once a full schedule of classes and sports is back in place? We have several ideas:

Internships: Internships provide meaningful opportunities for growth and offer the chance to take your classroom education and apply it to the real world. So how to find an internship while still in high school? Speak with your guidance counselor or look for opportunities posted on community college job boards. It also helps to be proactive and reach out to businesses — small business owners may not have the time to post an opening for extra help, and they’ll almost certainly be impressed at this combination of proactive initiative and ambition. You never know what valuable opportunities — perhaps in the form of mentorship or future employment — may be found through an internship.

Take a class: Many community colleges offer summer continuing education and 101 classes in business, art, accounting, media, computer skills and so much more. Taking the time to learn something new is never a waste of time (and looks impressive on a college application or resume).

Summer jobs: Summer jobs in the Roaring Fork Valley are plentiful. Our area is home to a booming construction industry, as well as a hospitality industry poised for an exceptionally busy summer season. Summer jobs teach all-important “soft skills,” including timeliness, teamwork, communication and responsibility. It’s also a fantastic way to apply financial literacy education to managing income. Earn while you learn!

Give back: It goes without saying that volunteering can be one of the most rewarding experiences for a young person. Volunteering may open up possibilities, uncover a passion for impactful work, and will certainly help open minds to new perspectives. And while volunteer work looks great on college applications, giving time to improve the circumstances of others is an experience that can shape us in wonderfully unexpected ways. The Roaring Fork Valley is home to many nonprofits — change your life and the lives of others.

Prepare for the year to come: Make sure your class schedule is set for fall. It’s never too early to prepare for the upcoming school year. Meet with your guidance counselor to discuss classes and other educational experiences. There are hands-on learning options outside of traditional classes that still help meet graduation requirements, such as Career Academy & YE University. Based on your interests and goals, your counselor may just point you to Youthentity.

We’re wishing our students a fantastic summer break, and a return to school in the fall refreshed and ready to learn. Make the most out of this time that is all yours.

Kirsten McDaniel is the executive director of Youthentity, a Carbondale-based nonprofit that delivers financial literacy and career readiness programs to over 4,000 youth throughout Colorado’s Western Slope.