High school students lead the way in summer melt research with Youth Participatory Action Research

Youth Participatory Action Research cohort
Ten high school sophomores, juniors and seniors participated in a series of workshops and trainings under the direction and guidance of YPAR scholar Van Lac, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

As part of Our Tomorrow’s Youth in Power, the Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) program this summer was an opportunity for young people to spearhead a research initiative focused on summer melt, the phenomenon of prospective college students’ capacity to attend college “melting” away during the summer between the end of high school and beginning of college.

Ten high school sophomores, juniors and seniors participated in a series of workshops and trainings under the direction and guidance of YPAR scholar Van Lac, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

YPAR is an approach to research that values the lived experiences and voices of those who have experienced systemic oppression, according to Lac. It centers marginalized voices and positions them as problem solvers of their social conditions.

“I was going through summer melt myself and didn’t even realize it,” said Alison Fernandez, a Jefferson High School senior. “As a first-gen student, I didn’t feel like I had the tools, but this experience has helped me feel privileged and more knowledgeable moving forward.”

Students conducted qualitative research with other youth who are experiencing or have overcome summer melt.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure and highlight of my summer working with a group of young people seeking ways to improve their schools and communities,” said Lac.

Why is this important?

Our Tomorrow’s summer YPAR program is the first of its kind in the country to focus on summer melt.

“At first I didn’t know fully what I was getting into, but this has inspired me to inspire others. This program has inspired me to see a new path for myself,” said Sarah Salazar, an East Central High School junior.

This program gave youth the platform needed to find their voice and speak about the impact of summer melt. Students’ findings will be shared with UP Partnership’s Equitable Enrollment Collaborative in the fall through a results recording and a protocol developed by Lac.

Digging Deeper

Throughout the summer, the program focused on three key steps.

Understanding the Roots

Lac and Our Tomorrow leaders trained and supported students as they focused their research and work on summer melt. Lac taught students about the roots of systemic racism and discrimination, especially in education.

“I loved the real talk we had around topics like social justice and inequality. As I am [preparing] for college, I have become so passionate about this topic. And it gives me knowledge about who I am, my background, experiences, and culture.” said Pete Vela, a junior at Jefferson High School.

This gave them a deeper understanding on the underlying causes of summer melt for themselves and their communities.

“We can’t combat an issue if we don’t know it’s a thing. This program is changing the awareness around summer melt,” said Nickoll Garcia, a senior at Jefferson High School.

Conducting Research

Students conducted qualitative research by interviewing 20 self-identified “Melters,” those who have experienced summer melt, and “Thrivers,” those who have overcome summer melt, to find out why summer melt occurs. Themes included financial barriers, family/personal emergencies, and/or mental health issues.

“This program empowered me to do and understand research in a very hands-on way. And we didn’t have to hide behind other people’s research,” said Deija Nunn, a sophomore at Veterans Memorial High School.

Our Tomorrow’s YPAR program was an opportunity rarely given to high school students and youth.

“I have realized that these are summer melt issues so many students endure now, and that can be fixed for future generations. That is the real power of this program,” said Tsomlee Andrew Go, a sophomore at East Central High School.

Sharing their Findings

Their findings have been categorized into themes for Our Tomorrow and the Equitable Enrollment Collaborative as part of a Gates Foundation grant.

High school and college practitioners will take the findings to guide future equitable enrollment strategies.

“I loved being able to create new friendships through this program. And realized that beyond the financial needs of students, many issues can be fixed with policies to make sure that students are empowered moving forward,” said Santiago Hernandez, a senior at Jefferson High School.

Final Takeaways from Youth

Our Tomorrow’s summer YPAR program is the first of its kind in the country to focus on summer melt.

“At first I didn’t know fully what I was getting into, but this has inspired me to inspire others. This program has inspired me to see a new path for myself,” said Sarah Salazar, an East Central High School junior.

This program gave youth the platform needed to find their voice and speak about the impact of summer melt. Students’ findings will be shared with UP Partnership’s Equitable Enrollment Collaborative in the fall through a results recording and a protocol developed by Lac.

—Paulina Sosa, Senior Manager of Storytelling
(202) 379-8940 | paulina@uppartnership.org