Be Here Now – What We Believe and Why

Thousands of teens travel every summer to far away places to experience things that their parents never imagined when they were teenagers. Some parents desire regular updates from the field; some parents have even come to expect daily postings from the program. The Internet and other gadgetry bring instant communication and along with it the expectation of real-time news about what our teens are doing far away in their programs. Why not? We’ve got the tools, let’s use them, right?

These days there are summer programs that post daily updates, video clips and blogs on their websites. Participants may have steady access to e-mail or can call home whenever they wish. VISIONS is not such a program, although we understand the desire to know about your child’s new, far-away life in our programs. The reason, simply put, is we want teens to be as immersed as possible in their experiences.

VISIONS is a powerful stepping stone to independence. Awareness of oneself in reaction and relation to the people around you is fundamental to healthy independence. By independence we do not mean freedom to wander the host community at will, to be gone from home base for hours during the day or night so long as one is back by the designated time, or to opt out of work projects for part or all of the day.VISIONS does not bring your child’s program experience to you in real or close to real time on a frequent basis.

We want VISIONS to be your child’s experience alone that unfolds fully with other participants, the staff, and the host community.

We are happy to respond to occasional calls and emails from parents checking in about their children’s experiences. We’re available 24 hours, seven days a week for emergencies. Our leaders make time at the airports for kids to call home to confirm arrival, and participants have time once a week to make calls and at some sites to write emails.

VISIONS programs engage teens on many different levels. We encourage them in many different ways to step out of their comfort zones into a community with others who share a common goal. Daily life in VISIONS is just that: life lived every day, working, socializing with our hosts and among ourselves, exploring and discovering together. A stream of both spontaneous and thoughtful activity that, when posted on a blog or in video clips, might look, frankly, boring at times. When we pause regularly to comment on our experience, we pull ourselves out of the stream of the experience, disrupting the flow. VISIONS at its very core is the rhythm and flow of minutes and hours that fully engage us.

There are excursions to historic places and beautiful spaces, and we witness powerful ceremonies and joyous celebrations. For the most part, however, our days are ‘uneventful’.  And yet, they are not uneventful in the least, not at all.

Teenagers absorb and digest so much information via so many streams. They memorize facts, learn to reason, debate and formulate in school. The teen social scene teems with text messaging, Facebooking, YouTube, tweets and twitter and more. In VISIONS, experience is the thing. Mind, muscles, heart, and psyche meld in ostensibly uneventful everyday life, a flow that anchors participants to physical, visceral time–a short time, really.

VISIONS participants move in a new, rich life stream at the program site. We want their focus every moment. They and their leaders gather together a few evenings each week to affirm this shared experience. But these are not forums for interpretation or information. The time for interpretation is after the program ends. Multiple, unlimited calls or emails home tend to pull kids out of the aesthetic realm that holds such deep learning and lasting rewards.

Every season program evaluations, emails and letters from VISIONS participants continue to affirm our choice to moderate emails and telephone calls home. And while hundreds of parents have written to tell about the changes in their children after a VISIONS program, none have railed against once-per-week-only communications. Twenty years of consistent feedback make us confident that you will learn the most important things when your child comes home. In the fall VISIONS, too, will tell stories on our website and in the VISIONS blog.

Please keep this in mind as departure day draws near. Try to be at peace with a weekly phone call or email from the field. Try to balance your desire to know what’s going on yesterday, today and tomorrow with the reward awaiting you when your child returns home glowing, more independent, more confident and ready to share with you treasured stories and moments from VISIONS.

VISIONS in The New York Times