If the return of warm weather triggers parent flashbacks of 70-page summer work sheet packets being sent home with Buffalo schoolchildren, rest assured. Work sheets will no longer replace elementary summer school offerings for the city’s 17,000 students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
Elementary summer school is not only returning to the district after a widely criticized decision to cancel those programs last year, but also the Buffalo district will actually expand summer programs at all levels to appeal to more students overall – not just the ones who are falling behind and failing.
“We have retooled it to a good degree, we think,” said Frances Wilson, the district’s chief academic officer. “We’re really excited about the programs that we’re offering.”
Wilson said the decision to expand summer school is based on Superintendent Pamela Brown’s academic vision for the district. Brown held a community round table at Dr. Lydia T. Wright School 89 on Thursday night outlining the district’s new offerings.
Last summer, the district implemented a controversial decision to save millions of dollars by scrapping elementary summer school and sending children home with work sheets instead.
At the time, the district justified its decision by offering a 12-page PowerPoint presentation analyzing the 2011 summer school program. That analysis found that Buffalo students who attended summer school often ended up at the same point academically as students who did not.
The suggestion that summer school did not have a strong, positive influence on the academic performance of struggling students ran counter to numerous well-funded and well-researched academic studies on the subject, including two by the University at Buffalo.
Thursday night’s round-table presentation on summer school offerings set a markedly different tone, with the first four slides quoting numerous studies and educators on the paramount academic importance of summer school.
Administrators said Thursday that the district’s analysis last year of the value of summer school was not the main reason elementary summer school was canceled – money was. Elementary summer school was also a casualty of the district’s transition to a new superintendent, they said.
This year, the district will use antipoverty Title I funds and school improvement grants to help pay for the program. In addition, summer school classes will be clustered in fewer buildings to help cut expenses.
Summer school will primarily consist of a four-week half-day program stretching from July to August, with meals and transportation provided.
Unlike previous years, the district will provide enhanced summer programs, not just remedial ones.
That means elementary students will have summer school options like art, music and physical education, Wilson said. Eighth-graders and eligible seventh-graders also will have the opportunity take advanced classes in pre-algebra for the first time.
And students who will be freshmen will be invited to participate in a two-week “Freshman Academy” instead of the abbreviated two- or three-day orientation program they used to receive.
Besides touring their high school buildings and meeting teachers and counselors, they will also be taught academic skills like note-taking and effective study habits, and even tour college campuses, Wilson said.
“We’re really going to stress that our freshmen understand what they need in order to graduate,” she said.
Remedial course work will still be offered across all grade levels for struggling learners and students who failed classes during the school year, Wilson said. Summer programs also will be available for students with disabilities and those who are newly arrived from foreign countries and speak little English.
More specific information regarding the programs will be sent home to parents in the next few weeks.