The strategy underlying all RFT summer programs is to engage students in activities which most have never attempted in order to open their eyes and minds to a world beyond their neighborhoods, families, and friends.  Years ago a student who did not particularly care for an activity asked why we scheduled it for the whole group. Our answer was that each activity is enjoyed by and benefits at least one student in the group- we just never know which "one" so everyone participates. That logic seems to make sense to our students as everything we schedule is designed for them.

With this understanding, these summer experiences serve as a tangible outcome for student participation in an existing program such as GEAR UP, 21st Century, Boys and Girls Clubs, or any community based organization. These summer programs use resources on college campuses, federal and state entities, and various public and private agencies so students might gain a better understanding of what is attainable through education and hard work.

We seek students who have the time to change their study habits, participate in school and extracurricular activities, and create resumes for a future career in college or the work place. Thus the primary RFT focus is on students in grades 7-10 with an eye on those 2 "forgotten years" of high school, 9th and 10th grade.

While we do not necessarily concentrate on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers, many of our activities on  college campuses are STEM based. Students return home understanding the correlation between their current academic courses and real world careers. They see for themselves why they need to take Algebra, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology during high school years and how these classes apply to future careers.

If a school or community based program already has a preferred academic program in place, this summer experience serves as a reward for academic achievement and meeting additional metrics. Your cohort and programs benefit by integrating our compelling experiential summer programs developed over the past two decades.


Variegated Experiences

RFT summer programming is not a recruiting tool for the military or any particular career field or college. It is a strategy to expose young people to what is possible in their futures, as we seek to actively immerse students in a wide scope of possibilities. We do use military resources when possible which provide hands on training as well as expose young people to those who serve our nation.

The one week college programs begin at 6 AM and end at 11 PM, with activity periods throughout the day that include interactive classes in a variety of STEM related courses, interspersed with snorkeling, surfing, flying, climbing, or team building sessions. Chaperons from the students' home area or school provide oversight and mentoring as they work directly with student teams as small as 5 participants. These chaperons get to know the students through these commonly shared adventures and all return home with a better idea of each other's strengths and weaknesses.


Student Selection

Our summer experiential program is focused on students predominately in grades 7-10 who are chosen in the local community based on metrics which include: grades, attitude, attendance, participation in school activities as well as extracurricular activities, and who would benefit from a collegiate immersion. Much of this is left up to the local partnering organizations who are using the summer experience as a reward.



The goals for the summer program are:

  • to expose students to a college environment early in their grade school years so they continue high school with an understanding of what they need to do to prepare to enter college
  • why post secondary education is relevant to them
  • which career fields especially those involving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) are of interest
  • and what opportunities for training and education are available through the military including service academies and scholarships which may or may not require military service.

What People Say About Our Summer Programs

Surry County Public Schools

Luther Porter Jackson Middle School 21st Century Community Learning Center Participant Reflections

What impact did participating in RFT’s San Diego trip have on you in general and what impact did it have on you as you continue your middle school and /or high school studies?


Student A:  I went to summer camp in 2009.  It was a great experience for me and if may be a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Many students from Surry rarely leave Virginia.  We had so much fun in California.  My most memorable event was flying an airplane.  It gave me an opportunity to see things from the sky which I may not have experienced until post high school.  On the last day we set goals and it was the first time that someone had made me focus on myself and set a reasonable goal.  This goal setting has helped me with my studies.  Since summer camp, my grades have improved each year.  I am now an honor roll student. 

Student B:  I just graduated from Surry County High School.  My most memorable experience in California was the various science labs to include physics, biology, and chemistry.  The week long experiences at USCD were unmatchable by my small, rural high school.  Our classes are mostly lecture and are geared toward passing the SOL tests.  The UCSD experience created a new love for science and as a result I plan to major in biology in the fall. 

Student C:  I am a junior at Surry County High.  I went to USCD in the middle school.  The greatest experience was meeting new people and visiting the naval base and aircraft carrier.  I would like to join the navy one day and build aircraft carriers.   Northrop Gruman is located about 45 minutes from Surry but they do not provide students an opportunity to visit their shipyard.  The visit to USCD was influential in my decision to join the military. 

Student D:  I had a wonderful experience at UCSD.  My parents have seen a difference in my behavior at home and school.  At first I was really loud and would constantly get into stuff.  USCD exposed me to so much interesting stuff that I finally started to like science in the eighth grade.  I had Mrs. Brown for a teacher after visiting USCD and she made science fun too.  She connected science with other subjects.  The counselors constantly stayed on me, well supported me until I became a better student.  They had a genuine interest in me as a person and believed more in me than I believed in myself.  The teambuilding exercises were good too. 

Student E:  I enjoyed my experience at UCSD.  My favorite part was the biology lab and sea camp.  It was really interesting to learn how the animals live.  I was able to touch some of them which is better than watching them on the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet.  I love visiting the zoo and aquariums but I have never had the opportunity to touch a sea animal.  I also enjoyed touching and seeing the animal brains in the biology lab.  I think that I would like be a veterinarian after high school. 

Student F:  My favorite part about my USCD camp experience was rock climbing, the leap of faith, and team building exercises.  My teachers and parents feels as though I have low self-esteem but the counselors and Mr. Peter coached me enough to overcome my fear of heights.  I also like the team sports.  I am not good enough to make a team in Surry but at USCD everyone was on a team.  This was my first time on an air plane.  I have done some things that my parents have not experienced and they are in their 40s.  I wish that I could go back. 

Student G:  I enjoyed the entire USCD experience.  I feel as though it is a once in a life time opportunity for many students including myself.  It made me feel like I was a college student who lived far away from home.  I was able to fly on airplane and sit in various classes to learn more about math and science.  I wish that more students from Surry could go.  We don’t have much here other than the nuclear power plant.  A lot of students choose not to go to college or move away because they just get comfortable with living here.  The weather in California was nice and the experience was great.  I would love to go back again. 

Student  H:  My favorite USCD experience was making the flashing button.  Most adults don’t allow students to do stuff like that because they don’t think that we are responsible.  It was really weird but yet interesting to start with a small board and actually solder the wires to make a circuit board.  I didn’t realize that is how must electronic devices are made.  I have taking some things apart and noticed similar boards in remote controls and computers.   My high school is small and does not offer any classes in electronics or electrical work.  I would like to become an electrician when I graduate from high school.  I may go to a community college or ECPI. 

Student I:  I would not change anything about my California experience.  We rode the airplane to California.  That was a first, but a chaperone sit beside me and made me feel comfortable.  I wasn’t as nervous when I flew the airplane.  We went to a lot of classes but they were interesting.   We wanted to go to the pool but Mr. Peter would not let us.  He told us that he had created a program that would provide us with totally different experiences than what we were accustomed to and he was right.  This was my first time on a naval base, touching a shark, looking at different brains, making ice cream, making a ball, learning how to save someone’s life, flying an airplane, and the list goes on.  I had so much fun.  I was a freshman this year and a lot of my friends did not get to go but they wish that they had.  My parents really appreciated Reach for Tomorrow and L P Jackson for allowing me to go. 

Student J:  Before attending the RFT San Diego trip, I was not very outgoing and was not willing to neither meet new people nor try new things. After the trip, I had more self confidence and I am a more outgoing person.  I have tried harder in school and I know now that I do have what it takes to attend college.  I think this was a good experience and hope it continues to give other students the opportunity I had.

Student K: When I think back to the trip, it was my first time away from family alone and it was my first time flying. I never knew math and science could be so much fun. When I got back to school, I found myself more interested in math and science. I did something I never thought I could have done; I climbed the rock wall and the tower. After doing those two things, I knew I could do almost anything.

Student L: I did not like meeting new people nor did I like science. Since the trip, I have been making better grades in science and I have no problem with meeting new people. I plan to attend college and when I do, I will be the first in my family to do that.  I wish I could have gone back. How could I forget, me in the water with “sharks”, I can do anything!

Student M:  I am headed to college! I am not afraid because I have already experienced living with other girls in a dorm and eating in the cafeteria.  I know I can make it across the campus because it is not half as large as the University of San Diego.  I learned that I could do things I never dreamed I could and I was successful.  Robotics and physics can be fun and not as hard as I thought. I thought it was going to be boring to be away from home for my birthday but it was fun.  I found that children from NY and AK are no different from children in Surry, VA.

Student N:  If I could go back, I would. I learned things about myself.  I learned to be a more independent person. I learned that it is important to listen in school and always do your best. Never say never! Give yourself a chance. The trip taught me that I can do whatever I set my mind to do.  Snorkeling with sharks and touching other sea creatures!  Climbing a rock wall!

Student O:  I am going into the 11 grade and I still remember the trip and how it changed my academic habits. I entered high school knowing that I could do all things. I have continued to make honor roll and accomplishing many things. I continue setting goals for myself. My brother qualified for the trip and did not want to attend at first but after explaining what a good experience it was, he decide to go and he too learned a lot and is more serious about his school work and likes science and math more since the trip.

Student P:  I was very quiet and not outgoing before the trip. I did not have much self-confidence because during elementary school and early middle school, I was in special education. I learned that I could be a leader and did not have to always be al follower.  I found out that I was just as capable as others. I later transitioned out of special education and this year, I graduated with honors and plan to attend college in the fall. I am thankful to all those who made this trip possible because as long as I live, I will remember the experience.

Student Q:  I was actually scared to fly and more afraid to leave my parents.  I thought I would get home sick but I did not. I spent so much time doing activities that I did not have time to get home sick.  We learned to live together and get along. I met new people and I made new friends. I like competitive things now. I do not doubt my abilities now. I know I can do thing that others think I can’t.

StudentR: I had never used a soldering gun before the experience in CA. I never thought I could build a circuit board and since the trip I have looked into occupations dealing with building circuit or mother boards.  The physics and chemistry activities sparked my interest in the sciences as well. Because of my experiences in CA, I plan to attend college and major in an area of science.  I know it is impossible, but I wish every student could take the trip.

Student S: I cried and Mrs. Brown and my mom begged me to take the trip. Until the night before the trip, I did not want to go. It was a trip I will never forget and I must thank the school, my mom and Mrs. Brown because if it had not been for them, I would have missed it all. After I got there, I had so much fun!  In the ocean with sharks….no deal…yes deal, I did it! After I am grown, I can see me telling my children this story. My mother has not been on an airplane and I have flown from the east coast to the west coast while I was still in middle school.  I have done well in high school and I know it was because of the things learned on the trip.

Student T:  I wanted to be a doctor but until the trip, never thought I had a chance. Mr. Underwood, Mr. Shaw and the other speaker we had made me believe I could do whatever I set out to do. If I could climb a rock wall and climb up a tower and stand on a narrow pole and jump….I can do whatever I want to do!

Student U: I did not want to leave my mom. I had never stayed away from my family and I had never shared a room with anyone.  Dorm life was fun. I had never done so much walking but it was fun too. Making ice cream and orange soda was cool.  I actually built a small robot. Meeting students from big cities like NY and DC was shocking. I thought they would look down of us because we were from a very small country town but they did not, they acted just like us. I am more interested in doing a good job in school. Before the trip I did alright but not my best. Now I do my best and do all of my homework. I actually study more for my tests and quizzes.

Student V: I am going to college to become a science teacher and I hope Mr. Underwood and Reach For Tomorrow is around so I can take my students to California. I am not so hard on myself about not being able to do something, I put my mind to it and do it.


Adult A:  I personally feel this is a trip of a lifetime!  Students have to be responsible, independent, leaders, team players and academic.  The activities safely push students out of their comfort zones and force them to take challenges. They are exposed to things that many of them would never experience in a lifetime. The students sit in the pilot seats and fly planes, students attend a Sea Camp and snorkel with sharks.  They participate in team activities and have to get along with others. The student must show respect for adults and fellow students. I have seen a positive work ethics in many students since the trip. I have seen students become more confident in their abilities and work harder in school since the experience.  I talking with many of the students, they learned not to doubt their abilities before giving themselves a chance.   This will be the fifth year for Surry students and I hope it continues. Many of the students are getting ready to attend college this fall and several will be first generation college students. Several students attribute this to their experience in CA and not waiting until a junior or senior in high school before planning and thinking about attending college. The students have pushed on and continued to set goals for themselves.


Adult B:  I had reservations about letting both of my children attend the California Summer Program because they had never been separated from me and they were only in the 7th grade. I was confident with the chaperones and with reservations, let them both go. This was one of the best decisions I have made. Both children accomplished things they never thought of ever doing. They were more comfortable around people. My daughter is ready to go to college and she is comfortable with staying the dorm and meeting new people because of her experience. She developed a love for both science and math as a result. My son learned to push himself out of his comfort zone and get things accomplished.  I am thankful for the opportunity given to my children and know that it caused a positive life changing experience.

Adult C: This was the first long distance trip I have ever chaperoned and I will never forget it! I know it was an awesome experience for the students because it was for me.  I noticed the student around school and many of them were more confident and outgoing since the trip. The science, computer, physics, and flying experiences were great. Many of the students developed a new appreciation for these subjects. The students were forced to help each other and get along. The Sea Camp experience will always be remembered. The students live in VA and many had not been to the ocean until the trip. It truly proved that learning can be fun and students learned that can’t is not an option.


Adult D: I still cannot believe I let 3 of my 5 children go clear across the United States at the same time. I was very nervous about doing that but I let them go because I felt comfortable with the chaperones and with what I read about the trip. I am glad they had the opportunity. Just a week in the dorm and they kept their rooms a little cleaner. They came back willing to try some new things. This was a trip of a life time for them all. They are doing very well in school and understand and enjoy math, science and computers.

Adult E: The biggest problem I have with the trip is that the middle school did not get the grant money in time for my own children to take the trip. For me as an adult, it was life altering. I still cannot believe I climbed a 60ft tower and flew an airplane. Some of the labs were unbelievable.  If I had been exposed to science in that way when I was in school, I probably would have majored in an area of science myself. I hope when the grant is over, fundraisers or sponsorships would allow at least a few students to have this same experience.


Chaperone A:  I had just as much fun as the students did.  They were excited and so was I.  I participated in as many events as I could because the hands-on was new to me.  USCD provided a much needed experience for the visual and kinesthetic learner, which is often over looked in the classrooms despite the so called differentiated instruction.  The experiences will last a lifetime and many students would love to go to California again.  Students learned CPR.  Being in a rural area, students need to learn how to perform life-saving techniques due to slow emergency response times.  Students had an opportunity to fly an airplane whereas many county residents have never been on an airplane.


Chaperone B/Parent :  I was thankful to be a chaperone on the USCD camp.  My daughter attended camp 2 years ago and she constantly bragged about the experience.  As a chaperone, I understood why my daughter was so thrilled.  As a graduate of Surry County Public Schools, my daughter was experienced some things that I wasn’t even exposed to in college.  I am proud of our school division for offering as many programs as possible but I am most thankful for her opportunity to attend USCD summer camp under Reach For Tomorrow.  Her grades were considerly low in math and science until she attended camp.  She has a better attitude about school and is planning for post high school.  She passed all of her SOL tests and will be a freshman in the fall.  I think that this experience has inspired her to do better. 


Chaperone C:  Last year, I was a chaperone for the camp.  It was a great experience for me as well as the students.  As a veteran, even I gained new experiences at the camp.  My daughters had an opportunity to attend the camp three years ago but my husband and I were nervous.  I now regret that they missed out on this science filled trip.  They wish to become doctors and the various labs could have been instrumental in finalizing their career goals.  The experiences that our students gained at USCD are far more advanced than what is offered in our high school courses.  In speaking with last year’s students, they really appreciate the hands-on experiences.  Surry continues to suffer budget cuts and as a result the school division is steadily eliminating or reducing core classes and technical programs.  USCD students greatly benefited from the various labs because the school does not provide students enough opportunities to explore.  All students were able to fly an airplane and in our school division over 50% free and reduced lunch school.  These students were afforded opportunities that some parents will never experience.  In addition, students were able to overcome various fears and challenges. 

Does It Work?

Below are the typical outcomes of students who have spent a week with RFT on a college campus. We coordinated the end of program survey with Dr. John Trammell at Randolph Macon College, Virginia who conducted the evaluation of GEAR UP students for the State grant to determine the impact a one week experience might have on students. 

Most of the students' responses prior to the program were centered in the middle of each graph. By the end of the week they clearly showed demonstrable changes in their opinion on a wide range of questions as their responses move from being neutral to disagree or agree.

Further, RFT surveyed summer program students on their attitudes about Math and Science classes in school. Our summer college courses introduced most of them to subjects as diverse as archeology, physics, robotics, chemistry, marine science, algebra one, physiology, and earth science. One of the A's in our mission statement is to improve the Attitude of students, and below are responses referencing attitude about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). These are typical responses from more than 4,000 students since 1993:

Longitudinal Outcomes

When RFT began there were a number of questions about the impact of a one week program on students, especially those in grades 7-10 who were just starting their teenage years. How could a one week experience change a student's study habits, self-worth, future aspirations, like or dislike of STEM subjects, considering most of the participants came from low income, ethnically diverse locations? And if there were any immediate changes, would they last past a few months?

Gathering longitudinal data from any group is challenging as students and their families move, drop out of school, or never resurface to respond to any follow up questions. In 2000 RFT was fortunate to have a strong partner in East Chicago, IN, The Foundations of East Chicago, who were able to bring a group of 82 students from past summer experiential programs together removed from RFT by 12-18 months. We collected the following responses from this group of teens who had visited the US Naval Academy and/or the USAF Academy during the summer as they started their high school years:


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