A cornerstone of the program (and, for the students, likely the most memorable) is the initial Summer Trip, which takes place in a student’s first year of participation. In this part of the program a group of students travel to a college, military installation or service academy, or other appropriate and interesting venue, where they engage in activities designed to build self-confidence and teamwork, are exposed to appropriate and approachable role models, and gain a personal appreciation of the opportunities and rewards that education can bring.
Many of the people that the students interact with on these trips, such as cadets and other military personnel, are close enough to the students’ own age for the students to relate to as part of their own peer group. Not only do the students get the opportunity to see individuals they can relate to in interesting, challenging, and exciting positions, they get to see these individuals proudly and without pretense practicing and aspiring to values such integrity, public service and personal excellence.
Students may get the opportunity to pilot a plane, command a ship, complete a military obstacle course or participate in college level science and engineering labs. By successfully completing these tasks, students are able to visualize themselves in these roles.
On the Summer Trip, which generally spans about a week, students are divided into teams of five or six, with each team assigned an adult Team Leader — an experienced or trained RFT volunteer, generally from the community in which the students live. Team Leaders supervise and work with the students not only to see that they get the most out of the trip, but to develop a personal relationship through which they can help the student in subsequent phases or elements of the RFT program.
The shared experiences of the Summer Trip at a critical juncture in the students’ lives helps form this bond. After the Trip, Team Leaders continue to guide and assist their students’ throughout their high school career, tracking their progress and helping them prepare, for example, a resume that can improve their chances of being accepted to a top college or service academy.
The initial Summer Trip is just the first element of RFT’s longer term strategy which builds on the attitudinal and performance improvements generated by the Summer Program. A complete monitoring cycle which lasts through high school is planned, encompassing things such as as college SAT prep courses, internships, scholarship, and career opportunities supplied or supplemented inexpensively through the Internet. This long term strategy is illustrated in the Time Line For Success. Because of its ubiquity and the level of familiarity that it enjoys among young people, coupled with its power for information delivery and interactivity, the Internet offers an unparalleled capabilities for delivering or enhancing many of the follow-up elements of the RFT program.
Through its own interactive website RFT and Team Leaders can continue to track, communicate with, and assist students throughout their high school years, bringing to their attention the availability of additional programs, job and educational opportunities, and more. Also through the website we continue to collect and collate information on the performance and achievements of participating students.
Improvements in students’ outlook, attitude, and motivation towards scholastic achievement and personal excellence are captured using several pre- and post-trip surveys and questionnaires, the results of which are aggregated and analyzed with statistical methods. These surveys and questionnaires also aim to capture positive changes in students’ attitudes towards the military and military service.