Summer school with a twist

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 11, 2007

It used to be that taking summer school classes was considered a form of punishment, a penal sentence forced on those students whose grades weren’t good enough during the regular school year.

In some households, the fear of having to go to school while friends swam in the pool, went to camp or generally did fun things was motivation to get one’s grades up to a satisfactory level before the school year was out. Summer school was seen as more remedial or punitive than beneficial.

That was then. This is now.

A program at Southampton Middle School proves that taking classes during the summer break is not necessarily a terrible assignment. The summer session is an extension of the weekly program offered after school during the school year to give those who are at risk extra help with reading and math each week.

It is, ironically, designed to help kids stay out of summer school.

The results, say the teachers involved, are measurable.

The 80 Southampton Middle School students in summer school represent a 36-percent drop in those numbers from last year, according to school officials. And some of those officials credit the 21st Century Community Learning Center program for the improvement.

One difference between the SHS offering and traditional summer school is that the students participating during the school year have been invited to attend during the summer and can choose to decline the invitation.

As it turns out, many of the 61 students who were involved in the spring program declined to participate this summer. But they will have the opportunity to get involved in the after-school program again in the fall.

The 25 or so students in the summer program attend four days a week, from 8:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and they have had a busy couple of weeks, reading novels, completing computerized math drills, making crafts, playing outside and even going on field trips.

The program is funded through a federal grant.

The summer session started June 25 and ends July 12.

The work students are doing while school is out is seen as a continuation of the efforts they put in during the school year.

Where, for instance, the spring program required students to complete a project on women in history, the summer session focuses on the historical areas of Richmond and Hampton Roads, highlighted by field trips to the Edgar Allen Poe Museum, the Virginia Zoo and the Museum of the Confederacy.

But for the success of the optional summer plan, some things never change.

Darian Bell, assistant principal at the middle school and the chief administrator there for both the 21st Century program and summer school, said the program has helped improve attitudes amongst SMS students.

He said: &uot;I know of several kids who were borderline toward the end of the year, but wanted to be involved&uot; in the summer program, so they buckled down and improved their grades in order to avoid having to go to summer school.