Summer Gap project aims to clear confusion for young people finishing secondary school

Young people are at one of their most vulnerable life-phases when they leave secondary school.

Many experience a sense of overwhelming loss as the support, rigid structure, and personal networks they’ve had for 13 years suddenly disappear.

While some know what they want to do after leaving high school, many rely on the expectations of others — their parents, teachers, or what their friends are doing — to determine their next steps.

Completing high school means a massive switch in their lives, but it is also an opportunity for young people to redefine themselves and rebuild the way they operate in the world.

Researchers at Victoria University and AVID Australia have just completed a state-government-funded project — Summer Gap — working directly with young people as co-designers on a five-week program that explores relationship-building, self-discovery and empowering school-leavers to be changemakers of their own lives.

Project manager Amy Howard, said Summer Gap helps young people feel validated that it’s okay if they don’t know what to do with their lives once they complete high school.

Pressure to get good ATAR

Developed over a year of workshops and brainstorming with about 20 young people alongside VU researchers, participants take a personal journey that examines their assumptions, identifies their skills and passions, and helps them answer the question:

What would get me out of bed every day, even if no one paid me to do it?

“In developing the program, we dispelled the notion of the expert, because we didn’t give our youth collaborators any new ideas — just the space to clarify ideas they’ve already had,” says Ms Howard.

A strong theme that grew out of the project was that many participants felt pressured to get a good ATAR score and go straight to uni — without enough discussion about alternatives from teachers and parents.

The record number of 1-in-10 Victorian students who now complete secondary school with an unscored VCE is testimony to this. 

“Summer Gap supports young people work out what path they want to take and what they need to do to get there. We focus on drilling down into the why – why do they want a certain pathway, what’s their decision-making behind that, and how do they justify that to themselves.”

One of the youth collaborators who helped develop the program, Chloe Hansen, said there was pushback with this program from parents who were confused about the program and why it was needed.

“Some participants didn't know how to tell their parents what they wanted to do with their future because they were scared of upsetting them,” she said. "This program brings confidence, allowing you to take the next step.”

The Hellenic Museum was a partner in developing the program, with many brainstorming sessions taking place within the museum to help participants understand their own personal histories.

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