Not all teenagers spend their summer playing video games or hanging out at the mall. Some manage to find time for other pursuits — helping children in Third World countries, for example, or complex scientific research.
As you start thinking about what your kids might do this summer — check out the daunting, unusual, selfless or just plain cool summer experiences of a few of those Maryland teens.
Helping out at an African orphanage
Even before last summer, Jamey Macris was a well-traveled young man. The son of U.S. Navy Capt. Jeffrey Macris, an instructor at the Naval Academy, Jamey had visited nearly a dozen European countries with his parents and four siblings.
But nothing he’d experienced was like last summer’s journey. “It was really life-changing,” says the Annapolis High School freshman.
Jamey and his mother spent a week volunteering at an orphanage in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, that was founded by his great uncle. He helped care for the newborns and infants, built benches for their nannies and installed swing sets in the small playground.
He also spent three days in Tanzania, where he and his mother saw wild elephants, leopards, hippos and, at one point, a herd of wildebeests crossing a crocodile-infested river.
Jamey, 14, earned an Eagle Scout badge for his work at the orphanage, but he also earned a whole lot more: a life-changing education in how people in much of the rest of the world live.
“It was really weird to see how much we have and other people don’t,” Jamey says. For the people of Kampala, electricity was spotty, he says, and the roads a nightmare. Families lived packed together in tiny, smoky huts made of sticks and mud.
“They do all their cooking themselves from scratch,” he says. “No one had any shoes there, and they had, maybe, one shirt, really tattered. … But they were so friendly. When they saw us coming, they were really happy — they wanted to hold our hands.”
His mother, Jennifer, says Jamey met his African experience with eagerness and maturity.
“He was so open to everything, from new food choices to new people,” she says. “He was incredible. He really embraced this whole project. … It got into his thoughts and his heart, and that’s what you hope.”
Jamey has another hope: “I would love to go back,” he says. “I would do it every summer if I could.”
Conducting archeological research at SERC
When Lee Place went looking for the internship required of students enrolled in the South River High School STEM Program, he turned to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater.
Since the center had no official internships for high school students, the rising senior had to find his own project to work on. And he needed something beyond just “making coffee or digging holes.” Something science-related.
He found what he was looking for at the center’s Archaeology Lab, where he dug, sifted and cataloged artifacts at a 17th century site. His work, which is ongoing, will result in the capstone project required at his school. He calls it “The Application of X-Ray Fluorescence on Lead Artifacts in Archaeology.”
While that sounds nothing but confusing to the layperson, the folks at the Smithsonian center are impressed.
“It’s a fairly unusual study even for professionals in the field, but it’s extraordinary for a high school student,” says James G. Gibb, a professional archaeologist who works with Lee at the Smithsonian site. “It’s basically graduate student level work that he’s doing.”
X-ray fluorescence is a method of chemically analyzing materials by bombarding them with gamma rays. In this case, Lee is using it to analyze fragments found in the centuries-old window frames at the Edgewater site.
He spent some 120 hours of his summer at the center and has returned a couple of days a week during the school year. Working a dig is tedious, he says, but intriguing.
“There’s a real fascination with discovering things that are lost, digging things out of the ground,” he says. “You’re basically just digging through people’s trash from a bygone era. But it’s what you can learn from it.”
While his archaeological adventure feeds his love of history, Lee remains set on a career in engineering, in which he plans on majoring in college. It’s a practical decision.
“I have two strong passions, for history and engineering,” he says. “One of those leads to a high-paying job. One of those doesn’t.”
Tackling domestic violence
When she was a high school freshman, a friend told Katherine Chiu she’d been raped by a family member but begged her not to report it. Katherine has regretted honoring that request ever since. And this summer, the Centennial High School senior did something about it.
Katherine, 17, worked one day a week as an intern at HopeWorks, Howard County’s domestic violence center. Among other tasks, the Ellicott City teenager began developing a teen version of “In Her Shoes,” an interactive, experiential workshop developed by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence to show people what it’s like to be a victim of domestic violence. Katherine’s version, which she is still working on with fellow Centennial High senior Riley O’Donnell-Zwaig, will be called “In Their Shoes.”
Katherine’s mentor at HopeWorks believes it will be the first teen version of the widely used workshop. “It’s an excellent idea,” says Vanita Leatherwood, director of community engagement for HopeWorks.
Because women from 16 to 24 are most at risk for dating violence, Leatherwood explains, “it makes perfect sense that we do this kind of experience with young people.”
Katherine hopes to have the teen version of the workshop completed in February and test it in her intern mentor class at Centennial. She already has talked to teachers and administrators about using the workshop in psychology and health classes.
But Katherine’s passion doesn’t stop there. She’s also working on a video project to educate teens on domestic violence and hopes to organize a Howard County version of “Walk a mile in her shoes,” an event in which men walk a mile — in high heels — to raise awareness of violence against women.
Leatherwood says Katherine “brings a special zeal to her work — a great combination of passion for the agency’s mission, organization and creativity.”
Katherine says she’s just happy to help. “I feel this is my chance to do what I didn’t do as a freshman,” she says. “Even if I don’t end up going into a career advocating against domestic violence, I’ll still be involved in some ways. … It’s had such an impact on my life that I don’t think I can just stop.”
Serving in the French West Indies
A bug bit Katharine Young last summer: the travel bug.
The 16-year-old junior at Annapolis’ Key School spent a week on the French West Indies island of Marie-Galante on a service trip organized by VISIONS Service Adventures, a Montana-based organization that bills itself as “a kind of Peace Corps for youth.” On the island, she immersed herself in the French Creole culture and worked on community beautification projects.
“You’re not only immersing yourself in the language but you’re really getting involved with the community, which I hadn’t done before,” Katharine recalls.
Katharine made the day-long trip to the Caribbean on her own, but once on Marie-Galante she was part of a group of about a dozen teenagers, most of them Americans. They stayed in an unused nautical base on the beach and ate meals at a nearby community center or in the homes of locals.
The group’s service involved chores like making picnic tables and painting public spaces. But they also had time to explore the island, which she described as lush and beautiful, and to absorb some of the culture.
“We got to visit a lot of local people — trade people and craftsmen,” she says. “It was a lot of interacting with the locals — you got to know what it would be like to live on the island. … We did a home stay one day, got to hang out with a family and practice French. The family had come from Paris.”
Katharine had traveled before, most notably two summers ago when she backpacked and white-water rafted in Idaho and Montana for three weeks. But this summer’s trip to the Caribbean opened up a whole new world to her.
“The instructors on the trip were so well-traveled and ridiculously good at languages,” she says. “Meeting people like that was really cool, and very inspiring. … It shows you how much is out there, how many different places and interesting people there are in the world. … I definitely want to find a way to explore different places on my own.”