07/30/2010 06:10 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Getting Students Stoked on the Summer

What did you do on summer vacation? When I was younger, my mother had enough sense to figure out a way to keep us busy, whether it was visiting family, going to Haiti, attending camp, or volunteering at a hospital. We didn't have a lot of money growing up, but it made sense for my mom and dad to keep my young mind occupied instead of being lazy at home or hanging out on the streets of Queens. Did you know it is estimated that students lose more than two months of grade equivalency in math and reading during summer break and there is an increase in obesity rates due to poor eating during the summer? This is precisely the type of thing that results in disadvantaged youth not graduating from high school and entering college. This crisis is called the summer learning gap.

The summer learning gap is something that I never knew existed before I started Stoked, a nonprofit that creates action sports programs for youth in underserved communities. For many of these kids, figuring out how to stay away from gangs and not being bored and watching television all day is a major challenge. These same kids go back to school without retaining what they learned before they left in June and in the new school year they have to start over. Cuts in after-school programs, overcrowded schools, and lack of support notwithstanding, these kids have it rough.

Although these situations are difficult, my colleagues from some amazing organizations are doing awesome things with youth this summer. My friends at SOS Outreach take kids to the outdoors, and this summer, 200 youth are going mountain biking. Our partners at Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) have math, arts, and sports programs throughout the summer. These types of programs keep kids engaged, out of trouble, healthy, and academically stimulated to help them prepare for a successful fall semester when they return to school.

This year, Stoked recognized the summer learning gap and set out to do something more than just take kids surfing during our Surf Mentor program. In our Los Angeles program, we're partnering with Nike 6.0 to provide apprentice and job training workshops in addition to teaching them how to surf at Huntington Beach. For six weeks this summer, kids will learn practical work skills such as writing emails, scheduling calendars, working on a team, and learning graphic design software. At the end of six weeks, students who live near East Los Angeles will create their very own surfing magazine about their summer. In New York City, we're partnering with a local beach organizations to get kids to become beach stewards. In addition to surfing, students are learning about environmental science, cleaning up trash on the beach, while learning about values such as respect and trust.

Our previous year's programs have resulted in youth increasing their knowledge of environmental issues, reading more, staying active, and essentially receiving a full beach experience. Stoked provides everything kids need to participate such as surf boards and wetsuits, and our sponsors, the George C. Chatzopoulos Fund, SIMA Humanitarian Fund, Quiksilver Foundation, Nike 6.0, and Sunset Surfboards, provide funding for staffing, transportation and food, while volunteers help kids learn not only how to surf, but also gain important skills like how to properly write an e-mail. Stoked kids go back to school refreshed, energized, full of purpose, and ready to do well academically. They also pick up life skills along the way that they can apply to their resume, their college essays, and to their classes. Our summer Surf Mentor program is kind of like a summer camp, but for youth in underserved communities.

There are a lot of organizations in your community that serve kids during the summer. From reading, to playing sports, to taking hikes, consider sponsoring a kid or volunteering for a program that serves youth. The more nontraditional, the better. Kids want to have excitement and adventure during their summer break. Didn't you? Think about the best summer you ever had. We want to give that to city kids this summer. Check out this video and the smiles of our summer Surf Mentoring program in L.A. that just launched two weeks ago to be inspired to get involved with a summer youth program in your community.