The 1987 film “Summer School” starring Mark Harmon and Kirstie Alley (among other notable actors) painted a picture of misfit students and teachers who were forced to attend high school classes during summer break normal almost as a form of punishment for their shortcomings during the previous semester. And while the characters and plot were obvious exaggerations for comedic effect, the film did nothing to dispel the “pessimist” of being sentenced to extra hours of learning.
Today’s summer school, particularly following the return to a “normal” school year after more than two years of COVID-altered routes, is the polar opposite of the clichés portrayed by Harmon and his cohorts on the big screen. A record number of students are not only participating in the summer school, but are doing so voluntarily in an effort to advance their academic careers.
According to North Branch Superintendent Sara Paul, 625 students participated in district youth connections over the summer.
“Youth Connections is provided as a resource for families who need high quality child care before or after school or during the summer months,” Paul told the North Branch School Board at their meeting on 11 august. “625 is a lot. You see a lot of activity, a lot of staff here, a lot of outdoor activity.
Also, the lessons are a far cry from the structured, “boring” lessons depicted in the film. In fact, it’s more like the “radical” changes Harmon’s character made to the curriculum that ruffled the feathers of the administration.
“We have locations where we do field trips on Wednesdays,” Paul noted.
When it comes to more traditional summer educational opportunities, those numbers have also seen a marked increase. Paul said 88 elementary, 30 middle school and 120 high school students have at least partially benefited from the courses offered.
That’s not to say there wasn’t a need for a summer school to help students advance their studies.
“Especially for our high school students, I’m going to emphasize math,” Paul said. “Mathematics was really a high difficulty area for our students in our last school year. And having a lack of confidence in math, it’s a self-constructed skill, can be really demoralizing.
“The word ‘courage’ is not taken lightly,” she continued. “We had brave students who said, ‘I want to get rid of this monkey. I want to come during the summer and I want to earn back that credit. And I want to enter the next school year without this burden of this FI obtained in mathematics.
This extra effort has paid off, according to Paul, as 142 credits have been picked up by high school students in the past two months.
“For 142 credits to get back, that was amazing,” Paul said. “Hats off, because it’s really hard to step up and have that something (the student) have to come in and pick up as credit. I’m so proud and thinking of the world of our students who came and were so positive and energetic over the summer and all the staff who made this opportunity possible.
“A lot of districts have struggled to get kids to come to summer school,” Paul said. “Summer school is not always the most motivating time to go back to school and improve your studies. Hats off to the very many families who have chosen the summer school.
In fact, summer school attendance was so great this year that North Branch schools received an additional $50,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Education. While not as directly tied to enrollment as a district’s overall budget, schools may receive increased funding after the fact if they see increased uptake. Paul noted that this extra money is only to be used for summer school programming. It cannot be used to overcome other budgetary problems.
“We’re just so grateful,” Paul concluded. “We needed it.”
SIMILAR STORY AT CI
Thanks in large part to two MDE grants totaling $550,000 exclusively for summer education programs, Cambridge-Isanti schools have also seen an increase in student participation. According to the Director of Teaching and Learning, Dr. Brenda Damiani, more than 1,200 students have participated in educational opportunities such as field trips, STEAM camp, high school graduation classes, credit recovery, reading support, access to the multimedia center, transition programs, targeted services. , and extended one-year services.
Additionally, Damiani said mental health support is available, as well as the district providing meals and transportation to students with the extra money, all at no cost to families.
“Summer scholarship funds have helped students get back on track after more than two years of interrupted learning,” Damiani said. “We greatly appreciate all the staff who worked over the summer to provide these incredible opportunities for students.”