Minnesota Changes Focus of Summer School

The Minneapolis School District has transformed the concept of summer school from being about remediation to instead focusing on enrichment. While traditional ideas about summer school may be that is a punishment for failing kids, in Minneapolis the stigma is being removed by giving the students high school credit for their work.

Tim Post of Minnesota Public Radio reports that the district's Fast Track Scholar program allows students to earn up to four elective credits during the six week program, which is now in its second year and offers a total of 11 classes.

While three of these classes are remedial (algebra, science, and reading and writing) the other eight are focused on helping children get ahead in their high school academic experience. The program is open to any student in the district who will be an incoming ninth grade freshman next year with a desire to earn high school credits in advance. Already 20% of the signups are from students who require no remedial work. Of the 80% who do require some remedial work, many take extra credit classes in addition to the remedial work.

One such student is Antwan Holmes, 14, who required remedial classes in science, but is taking a credit class in Geography as well.

Teacher Eric Sparks said:

"I haven't taught summer school in 15 years. It's changed a lot since I did it last time," Sparks said. "It's very well organized… giving them credits like this, getting them involved. Totally different. It's a great way to do summer school."

Data from the district shows that 20% of students who start out as high school freshmen fail to graduate. Summer school program coordinator Elizabeth Bortke hopes that the new approach will radically change that outcome for many students with the extra credits putting them on track to graduate without slipping a little behind and feeling overwhelmed:

"Everybody is part of a larger program where all of your peers are invited and no matter where you are we are going to put you in classes that accelerate you," Bortke said.

The program, which costs more than $250,000, may be expanded to include students moving from ninth to tenth grade next summer if funding can be found. The current voluntary program has 600 students this summer. While this is three times the number who attended the old style summer school two years ago, it only represents half the students in the district who could potentially benefit from the program.

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