Summer 2021

Bridging the Gap or Getting Ahead: Enrichment programs and the opportunity to enhance student learning

While some students relish in the succession of breaks that come throughout the school year, others crave for more learning. Educational enterprises, both public and private, are well aware of this craving and have, over time, developed a myriad of options for students who are looking to learn and experience more. From your local university to a college across the country to an education company in another nation, the options are endless. All that is needed is a desire to engage in the learning opportunity offered, and summer is the ideal time to participate.

They’re called enrichment programs and they take on many forms. Ultimately, students who choose these options are looking to explore topics that have aroused their curiosity. They provide a chance to increase knowledge, to dive deeper, to enhance previously learned material, to explore new topics and to become enriched by the educational experience.

At no time have enrichment programs been more important. The pandemic has created a learning gap that many educators fear will set some students back months or in some cases, years. An enrichment program can help to bridge that gap and improve learning during this critical period. While many of these programs only exist online as the summer of 2021 approaches, it is a good idea for guidance counsellors to keep them in mind moving forward as an option for students who are looking to make up lost ground or simply explore topics of interest. 

Enrichment programs provide a number of benefits for students that can go far beyond the bridging of potential learning gaps.

Enrolment in such programs can also:

  • Assist in developing a deeper knowledge and understanding of certain subjects
  • Improve critical, analytical, and problem-solving thinking skills
  • Find answers to questions that they have been asking
  • Enhance their academic and social skill
  • Improve their confidence
  • Participate in new experiences, both academic and social
  • Feel a sense of accomplishment
  • Reduce anxiety when it comes to new activities or events

While the above are only a few of the benefits validating how enrichment programs can enhance a student’s academic resume, the value they’ll bring into a student’s life overall are extensive.

Enrichment programs

There is a wide range of enrichment programs. According to Marie Schwartz of TeenLife (an organization that compiles and publishes about enrichment options), these learning opportunities, “…teach responsibility, leadership, and resilience. They might include academics, community service, or leadership training, but this isn’t an older generation’s idea of ‘summer school.’ You’ll find plenty of chances for adventure and friendships. And there’s a teen summer program to fit every interest, budget, and schedule.” Schwartz’s final point deserves special emphasis. There is literally an enrichment program for every student –from drama to forensics to journalism to gene research. If a student is looking for an area to enhance their learning, they’ll find it with a simple web search. That said, enrichment programs do cater to the market and are very popular in the areas highlighted next.


Leadership enrichment programs are among the most popular summer learning opportunities for students. Most leadership enrichment programs highlight global citizenship with an emphasis on making the world a better place. Some pursue this goal through academics and higher learning, while others focus on public service, personal responsibility and social justice. Many leadership camps are offered by universities who see exposing students to the university experience as a vital life lesson for emerging leaders. As Austin Teshuba, a participant in the business-oriented Ivey Leadership Program out of the University of Western Ontario puts it, a well-rounded camp is “…going to help you be a better person, whether it’s as a business professional, a technologist, a doctor or a lawyer. Ivey doesn’t just give someone business knowledge and say you should be in business – they give you business knowledge so you can understand the world better.”


Enrichment programs in the arts range from drama camps to writing workshops to architecture and design clinics. The number of options for students is truly remarkable and universities in Canada and around the world are offering outstanding programs that can only enhance a student’s love of the arts. Some schools, like the Alberta University of the Arts provide students with the opportunity to build their visual arts portfolio while earning credits toward their post-secondary education. Meanwhile, Ryerson University has a performance program that teaches students everything from acting to technical production. All of the arts enrichment programs providing students with valuable analytical and critical-thinking skills. As Gillian Dykeman of ArtsLink NB says, “We live in a media-saturated culture. The arts equip us with tools that reveal the process by which media is made. We need the arts more than ever in order to create literate citizens — in the fullest sense of the word.”


Along with leadership programs, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) enrichment camps are among the most popular in Canada. They are also offered at some of the best schools in the nation. Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, is a prime example. They target students who may be interested in engineering from a young age with an elementary program, and a more comprehensive curriculum for high school students. They also have programming designed to bring more females into the STEM professions. Students can also choose enrichment opportunities for things like the science of crime with Trent University’s forensics camp and York University’s biology, chemistry and physics focused Spark Lab program. The importance of enhancing learning in the STEM professions cannot be overstated. According to the U.S.-based National Science Foundation, “To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.” This is why STEM enrichment programs, besides being very popular, are so important for Canadian students with an interest and passion for science, technology, engineering and math.


Experiential enrichment programs are offered by both Canadian schools and private companies. These programs are for students who are looking for some kind of experience to improve their understanding of the world around them. While one student might want to get a sense of what university will be like when the time comes, another might be looking for an experience of living in nature or travelling to a foreign land. The summer is the perfect time to pursue these options because of the time, and the number of opportunities, available. Manfred J. von Vulte, author of Comic Books and Other Hooks: 21st Century Education, says, “When learning is added with a real experience it becomes part of a life experience. It is a working, tactile knowledge and becomes a super memory.” An experiential enrichment program is a great way to help students develop in a holistic, meaningful and, often, life-changing way.

Broad-based subject specific offerings

Students also have the opportunity to participate in enrichment programs that are subject specific. Whether its law, journalism, biology, business or math, many Canadian universities are ready to give students the gift of higher learning via their summer programs. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, then high school Debbie Dada put the enrichment program experience in perspective, “It’s quite tempting at times to just let everything fall away, but then you’re not using your time to its greatest potential. I think it’s really important that we’re able to continue to stimulate growth in the summer. It’s not like school is for learning and the rest of life is just for living.” Attending an enrichment program at a university, where a student gets a taste of life on campus, is a valuable way to stay engaged and get an idea of how they will handle life after high school. It is also an effective way to improve knowledge and skills in subject specific areas.

Pandemic response and the move to enrichment

The education community, while blindsided by the pandemic, has performed the herculean task of reinventing learning in a new context by embracing technology. Students have continued to learn and evolve despite the chaos brought on by the coronavirus. Nonetheless, the health crisis has left some students behind, making enrichment programs a valuable option for anyone  looking (or needing) to make up lost ground.  As University of Waterloo sociology professor Janice Aurini says when examining the impact of the pandemic, “Those kids who were already vulnerable — who already would have had summer learning losses and the challenge of having to catch up after summer vacation — are now entering school even further behind than they normally would have been.” With a huge selection of options, enrichment programs can provide opportunities for those students who either feel like they have fallen behind or for those students who are looking to get ahead.

By: Sean Dolan