Summer school. If there are two words in the English language that can instill dread in a young student, these are certainly strong contenders. Historically, summer school consists of remedial classes for those students who were not able to pass the first time they were enrolled in a particular course or grade level. What kid in their right mind would want to spend any of the warm, homework-free, fun-filled months of summer back in school?
In Minnesota, the Minneapolis School District is doing everything they can to change the perception that summer school is a punishment. Instead, they are changing the focus of their summer school program from one of remediation to one of enrichment; courses are offered not only for students who have failed classes and need to make them up, but also for students who want to get a head start and would like to take accredited elective courses.
The district’s Fast Track Scholars program is offered to any middle-school student who will be entering high school after the summer. Of the 11 classes offered, just three are remedial—algebra, science, and reading and writing—while the remaining eight courses are there for kids who want to earn high school credits in advance. Students are able to earn up to four elective credits during the six-week program. This year, 20% of the students who signed up are taking elective classes alone, while the other 80% are in a remedial course; in addition, most of that majority has chosen to take an elective course as well.
At present, data from the Minneapolis School District shows that 20% of its students fail to graduate from high school. Summer school program coordinator Elizabeth Bortke is hoping that the new approach to summer school will change that number; she believes that the extra credits earned over the summer will put students on track to graduate and help to eliminate feelings of slipping behind or becoming too overwhelmed with their school work. The district has the same hopes as Ms. Bortke, including plans to expand the program to include ninth and tenth grade students if more funding becomes available.
The Fast Track Scholars program has been in place since 2010 and is seeing growing success—its enrollment rates have tripled to 600 voluntary participants when compared to the old program two years ago. Ideally, the school district hopes to see this number double once more to accommodate all of its students who could gain from the program.