Summer school sheds negative connotations

Disinterested delinquents. Frazzled teachers. Stuffy classrooms and recycled curricula. Supposedly, that was summer school.

No longer.

Online offerings, WASL results and progressive educators are changing the way people look at summer school. In Marysville, administrators expect more than 1,000 students to register for summer school this year. Parents are pumped about a comprehensive program so attractive the district has been turning both students and teachers away.

“Historically, summer school was pretty low-key and expectations weren’t very high,” said Andy Rogers, director of learning support for Marysville School District. “Now we have a clear focus.”

For many local school districts, that focus is the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. High schoolers won’t graduate unless they pass the reading, writing and math sections of the test, starting with the class of 2008. Most area districts have added WASL-preparation courses to their existing summer school curriculum.

Marysville educators have taken a proactive approach. The district’s tuition-free summer program reaches out to under-achievers early, before they have to worry about graduation. Plus teachers receive expert classroom coaching.

“It’s a great opportunity for both students and staff,” Rogers said. “Our teachers learn new skills, and serve our struggling summer students at the same time. It’s a win-win.”

However, high-school educators are under immediate pressure – more than 60,000 10th-graders failed at least one section of the WASL this spring. They’ll get a second chance in August – and more later if necessary – but they need help, fast. The state has provided Snohomish County school districts with $350,000 for targeted WASL instruction, and summer school programs will see their share.

In Mukilteo, referred 10th-graders will enjoy free snack, free lunch and earn a half credit for each course they complete.

“It’s a good deal for the kids,” said Mukilteo student services director Alison Brynelson. “It should get them back on track.”

In some ways WASL prep will resemble the conventional summer school model, where students play catch-up. Traditionally, students pay to make-up courses they’ve failed or earn credit toward graduation. Snohomish County schools will continue to offer that alongside WASL prep classes.

Will summer WASL classes give students the boost they need? There’s every reason to believe so. But pass or fail, local educators have dusted off an archaic institution.

Better summer schools. We can all applaud that.

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