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The Focused Student: Why summer school?

The dog days of summer have arrived! The days are lit well into the evening hours and the pools are heated by the hot summer sun. Ready for a nice relaxing summer? Well, almost.

There’s that little five- to six-week thing called summer school.

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Once upon a time, summer school was only for kids who were in academic trouble and needed remediation, and it carried a significant stigma. Those days are gone. You will now find a mix of students with a variety of motivations in any given summer school class.

One of the primary reasons students take summer classes is for the opportunity to explore skills and interests that can’t be accommodated in the regular school year. Summer is for experimentation and discovery. Students in elementary or junior high school in particular can choose courses that are of interest rather than something they must take. And the exploration can take place in many places besides “school.” In our area, it could be a class at the L.A. Zoo, Armory Art Center, Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge, Descanso Gardens, or one of many sport camps. There are remarkable opportunities available throughout the Los Angeles region.

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The leading reason high school students take summer school courses in higher income areas is for advancement. In today’s competitive college admissions environment, students feel compelled to take four years of English, social studies, foreign language, math and science. Throw in two years of physical education and a year of fine art and there is no room left in a six-period day to take something of real interest to the student. Where does a student fit more art, drama, music, computer design, “shop” classes, home economics, cooking or even a business class — the sorts of classes that demonstrate versatility and intellectual curiosity to admissions officers? Summer school can make it happen.

Of course, for some students, remediation is the reason for the summer session. While a specific subject is sometimes involved, more often there is a need to keep reinforcing basic skills such as reading, math, note taking and general study skills. These courses may be set through an Individual Educational Plan (I.E.P.) and cover a variety of subjects, or parents and a teacher may identify certain areas that need a boost.

As students get older, many use summer school to upgrade a grade. In fact, many private schools require a student to obtain at least a C-minus to continue at the school, and it can be summer school to the rescue.

Finally, there’s the “parental sanity” reason for summer school. While we love our kids, a little absence makes the heart grow fonder. A few hours a day of summer school means lightening the load of parental obligation to provide entertainment, transportation and engagement while also reducing student time spent playing video games, watching TV and going brain dead. This is good for everyone.

Whatever the reason or reasons, summer school should be seen as an opportunity. Explore the possibilities with your child and encourage a bit of academic risk taking. If your student is a math whiz, suggest a ceramics class. Encourage the budding musician to try science. Summer school is sort of a free pass, and many students discover new and interesting worlds by doing what they haven’t done. And it’s a real confidence builder for those students who only want to do what they are already good at.

Summer’s here, and the learning is easy.

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