District Getting Hang of Summer School
By HEATHER HADDON
Evelina Ruiz, a 14-year-old Norwood resident with a flawless singing voice, has had a bit more trouble acing her math problems. After failing to pass her state math exams last spring, the PS 20 student was one of thousands of children citywide who returned to her school just before July 4 for a six-week summer school program.
While the first couple of years of the citywide program was fairly rocky, students, parents and administrators say the program is settling down and achieving results.
One sign of that is the number of kids showing up. Now in its third year, attendance at the mandated program for struggling students was up in District 10, where 85 percent of the kids attended - markedly higher than the citywide average of 72 percent. About 10,000 District 10 students, around 25 percent of the total number of kids in the district, are enrolled in summer school.
Even some students are giving the program good marks. "It was more organized this year," said Ruiz. "There was better explanation of things."
New York City no longer promotes failing children to the next grade - a practice called social promotion. Many other cities have also abandoned social promotion for some variety of summer school instruction and testing.
Seventy five percent of the kids in the District 10 summer program received failing marks during the school year, putting them at risk for being held back a grade. Others need to work on specific skills - such as English or passing the state exams.
Some critics argue that summer school does little more than help kids cram for the state exams. While the exams are emphasized, district educators defended the curriculum as well-rounded.
"We incorporate both test preparation and literacy skills," said Frank Lucerna, PS 94's assistant principal.
Lucerna said he thinks it's important for summer school to feel a lot like the regular school year.
"We tried to set an environment that's comfortable for them [by] recreating the same classroom environment they experience throughout the year." So, teachers added children's work to bulletin boards, charts were displayed and vocabulary words marched across the walls.
Many schools were able to offer smaller class sizes during the summer sessions. For Bedford Park resident Milca Iona, summer classes provided a more focused environment that helped her daughter's English skills develop.
"Her reading class had too many kids," said Iona regarding her 13-year-old's regular PS 95 experience. "Summer school had fewer interruptions."
Yet other schools didn't have that luxury. Ruiz said 25 students were in her class.
Parents also seemed to give greater priority to summer school. "Parents this year more than ever have understood the real seriousness of the students coming in," Lucerna said. "A few parents actually canceled vacation plans so their children could attend."
"Efforts made through the media" about summer school helped enrollment this year, said Bruce Irushalmi, a District 10 spokesman.
Yet thousands more who could have benefited were shut out. Education budget cuts from last year excluded many who were not mandated to attend but nevertheless needed enrichment classes. Expected reductions in next year's education budget will undoubtedly continue this trend.
Most agree that the more who can attend summer school, the better. The results of exams taken the last week of classes will be released in early September, determining which students will advance to the next grade.
Though Ruiz probably preferred her talent show rehearsals at PS 20 to math equations, she said she was pleased she attended classes this summer.
"It's going to be easier now," she said about the state math exam. "I thought [math lessons] would be real hard but the teachers made it easier."
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