School bells still ring in city in summertime

Posted: July 12, 2013

The Winchester Star

John Kerr Elementary School teaching assistant Cassi Carroll helps rising first-graders Caleb Rachelli (left) and Christian Jayne with their computer assignment during class on Wednesday. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Handley High School seniors (from left) Brennan Smith, Jack Ricci and Dennis Vega do classwork Thursday.
Handley High School sophomore Jonathan Keck listens to algebra teacher Shane Campbell during summer school Thursday.
John Kerr Elementary School first-grade teacher Carleigh Kucinich works with summer school students Leslie Majano-Livares (left) and Gladis Cruz-Velasco. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
John Kerr Elementary School teacher Caryn Glassbrenner helps rising fourth-grader Tavon Long.
LEFT: Handley High School Assistant Principal Anne Canada works with sophomore Coralissa Maxwell.

WINCHESTER — On Thursday morning, when most students were in bed or enjoying the summer sun, Handley High School seniors Jack Ricci, Brennan Smith and Dennis Vega sat tucked in the back of a computer lab.

At 7:30, they began poring over pre-calculus problems as part of a three-week summer school program.

Their goal: raise their grades to an A or a B by retaking the class.

“I actually don’t mind it that much because I want to get into a good college,” Brennan said. “These days when colleges see a C or a D, it raises a red flag.”

Added Jack: “I have pretty good grades in my other classes, and this is my weak spot.”

The three seniors are among the approximately 900 students in Winchester’s six schools to attend free summer school. The division has an estimated 4,302 students, which includes pre-kindergarten.

While the city division’s computer labs and classrooms are filled with students, the halls of schools in Frederick and Clarke counties are mostly quiet as both divisions have stopped offering a summer program.

Frederick County stopped offering summer school in 2009 as a way to reduce operating expenses during the recession — saving about $75,000 a year. Clarke County stopped offering the program this year.

“Research shows that it isn’t very effective,” said Clarke Superintendent Mike Murphy. “There are better ways to remediate.”

As alternatives, some schools in Clarke offer remediation for targeted students, and the high school offers optional courses such as physical education and driver education, which opens up a slot for an academic or technical class during the regular school year.

In Frederick, students who need to repeat high school classes to make up credit or to earn new credit can take courses online at a cost.

“A benefit of the division dropping summer school for high school students is that we dramatically increased the number of kids attending to their work during the school year and no longer procrastinating,” wrote Peter Vernimb, assistant superintendent of instruction, in a Tuesday email.

But Winchester school officials see the benefits.

Superintendent Rick Leonard said the program extends learning opportunities beyond the 180 school days, allows for high school credit recovery, bridges the loss of learning over summer months and between new schools, and gets students accustomed to using a blended instructional approach, such as online and classroom learning.

Winchester used to have a more robust program that ran six weeks and had more students, but Leonard said the division has been fortunate to keep the program — due mainly to the help of state reimbursement.

Every budget season, however, questions arise about funding summer school.

“It always comes up as a budget item,” Leonard said.

In 2003, summer school expenditures were $155,629, and in 2013, they were $118,000.

For the approximately 100 students in Handley’s summer session, the program is a must. These students are repeating courses to pass or improve their grades while others are preparing for the Standards of Learning tests — all so they can graduate on time.

The program offers self-paced/computer-based learning classes and teacher-led instruction in classrooms. Nine teachers are leading the sessions.

Senior Michael Gordon fell behind in his school work and had to take summer school to achieve his dream of becoming a Marine.

“Military is kinda my drive,” he said. “I can do [summer school] and go to the Marines and have a nice life, or I can struggle.”

Kendall Webster needs one more credit to graduate. He thinks he can get that by the end of the first week of summer school through the computer-based learning class.

“It kinda sucks to be honest,” he said of going to school in the summer. “It’s not as bad as last year, but it’s still not fun.”

“I wish I would have paid more attention,” he said. “Obviously I didn’t do a lot of that.”

Webster has a welding job lined up and plans to go into the Army next year.

Senior Alexis Harris and sophomore Coralissa Maxwell need better grades in English and chemistry, respectively, and are doing the courses online.

“Teachers sometimes go a little too fast,” Coralissa said. “It’s not their fault because there’s more students in the class. Here, you can go at your own pace and teach yourself.”

Alexis likes that when students are done with their lesson, they can leave early.

“I wish I’d known to do it sooner,” she said of summer school. “I could have gotten ahead and got a lot of things done.”

At Daniel Morgan Middle School, 298 of the 1,200 students are in the three-week summer school. The program offers intervention for students struggling in math and reading (determined by SOL scores), enrichment classes and a two-day “jump start” program for rising fifth-graders.

At the division’s four elementary schools, the mood is a little different as students are excited to be back in the classroom during the summer.

“It’s awesome,” said fourth-grader John Mendoza at John Kerr Elementary School. “The teachers are nice, and we get to do fun things, like play outside, do work and work at the Smart Board.”

At the elementary school level, struggling students are targeted to attend the two-week summer school, but there is no requirement and all students are welcome to join.

“It definitely helps to prevent what we call the summer slide,” said Nan Bryant, principal at John Kerr. “I also think kids like school. For some children, this is the special activity they do over the summer.”

Students learn and review skills in math, reading, writing and research. All kindergarten students are encouraged to attend a one-week orientation to get used to school and the building.

At Kerr, 152 of the school’s approximately 350 students are attending school this summer. Eight teachers and two teaching assistants are called in to lead the sessions.

The summer offers a chance for fourth-grader Liliana Guzman to get full reign of a computer. Her summer school project involves researching vacation destinations and various cultures and creating a travel brochure.

“I wanted to come to summer academy to see my friends and learn,” she said. “My mom also works here.”

In Joe Svoboda’s “time machine”-themed class of rising third-graders, students learn about famous explorers. On Wednesday, they pored over writing assignments where they pretended they were on Christopher Columbus’ ship.

“I wanted to do this to see all the great people and have a good time and see my friends,” said third-grader Jimena Marquez.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com