Sacramento students get a taste of civic life with Summer at City Hall

by Jay Schenirer, Jonathan Raymond and Bina Lefkovitz

Traditional summer school for teens has all but vanished in urban cities such as Sacramento over the last several years, the victim of recessionary funding cuts. Although all students benefit from robust out-of-school programs, the lack of summer learning opportunities is especially damaging to low-income teens, who often return to school in the fall having lost gains made the previous year.

The Summer at City Hall (S@CH) initiative—begun three years ago by Sacramento City Council member and former school board member Jay Schenirer in partnership with the Sacramento City Unified School District with youth advocate Bina Lefkovitz, as well as the Sacramento County Office of Education—has four important impacts on teen learning and leadership and could provide a model for other communities seeking to create an engaging and enriching summer program for youth.

Scott McKinney, a student at The Met Sacramento High School, is a Summer @ City Hall intern. In this video filmed at the Summer Matters event at the state Capitol on June 20, he speaks about the benefits students received from participating in summer learning programs.

S@CH currently provides approximately 85 high school students with a six-week, five-credit summer course that combines civics, leadership and work readiness skills development—educating students on the inner workings of local government and motivating them to become active citizens who vote, volunteer and advocate for improvements to their neighborhoods. Second, it offers those students a 27-hour, five-week, paid internship ($270 stipend) in a city department where they gain real work experience and explore firsthand careers in local government. Third, it gives these students—most of whom come from our most at-risk neighborhoods—a safe, constructive place to be during a portion of their summer break. Finally, having up to 85 young people in and around City Hall daily reminds both the local elected officials and city staff of the importance of our young people to the city’s future and helps dispel any negative stereotypes about our teens.

The program

Over the initial three years of the program, Summer at City Hall has grown from 30 students and one SCUSD teacher to 85 students and three SCUSD teachers this summer. Each year, four “returning youth” are also recruited to participate in the planning and delivery of the program.

S@CH participants are recruited by SCUSD’s Youth Development staff that operates the year-round after-school programs for the district and a growing and robust set of summer programming for almost 5,000 students from elementary to ninth grade. S@CH is one of the few programs currently in the school district that serves the 16- to 18-year-old age group.

The types of skills students learn in the program include employer expectations, punctuality, dressing professionally, customer service, interview and presentation skills, teamwork, conflict resolution, consensus building, as well as context and networking. Students also receive the opportunity to take the Gallup Strength Finders assessment to explore their strengths. See a summary of the program and the partnership here.

Jay Schenirer is a member of the Sacramento City Council, Jonathan Raymond is superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District, and Bina Lefkovitz is a youth advocate.