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They’re All Booked Up : Fun Has to Wait Until Summer School Ends, but the Early Morning Routine Is Almost Over

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is a bright and beautiful summer morning, and Rachel Stayner stretches and yawns, thinking wistfully about how much longer she could have slept if only she didn’t have to be here.

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Here is an Estancia High School chemistry class, full of other students who are also rubbing sleep from their eyes. Here is where the 16-year-old has begun all but one weekday morning for the past five weeks at the miserable hour of 7:15. Here is where--instead of sleeping in and then vegging lazily on the beach with her friends--she has been learning about the periodic table, about protons, neutrons, electrons and positive and negative ions.

Here is summer school. It is, in a way, Rachel’s penance for putting chemistry off for the past three years and then not wanting to suffer through it during her forthcoming senior year at Corona del Mar High School. She must take the course to be admitted to her college of choice, Brigham Young University in Utah.

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“I assumed summer school was going to be easy, and I was just going to kick back and relax,” groaned Rachel, elbows on a desk, her hands pushing back the sandy-blond curls from her face. “I was wrong. I’m always so tired because the schedule is so hectic. I’m stressed. This is out of control.”

The good news is that Rachel will soon grab hold of her out-of-control summer: The Newport-Mesa Unified School district summer session ends Friday. The bad news is that between now and then, she has to read, study, take tests and, of course, pass the final exam.

Such is the life of students who opt to sacrifice most of the sunny days of their summer vacation to better their grades, to take a course they couldn’t--or wouldn’t--sign up for at another time, to pick up more credits or to keep from failing altogether.

In Orange County, there are about 42,000 elementary and high school students enrolled in summer school. Most have stayed for the duration, which was four, five or six weeks, depending on the curriculum and the school district. For many high schools, the summer session ends Friday.

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“I can’t wait until the end,” Rachel says. “I’m going to sleep in every morning. I’m going to bed later at night. I’m going to watch TV. I’m going to spend time with my friends. I’m going to be lazy.”

As tired as she is and as busy as her schedule has been of late, Rachel still manages to find time to continue other daily routines that are important to her.

A devout Mormon, she dedicates every Monday night to “family night,” praying with her parents and siblings at home and discussing the previous week. On Tuesdays, she participates in her church youth club activities, although in the past few weeks she has been the first to leave so she can get to bed early for school. On Saturday night, she goes to youth dances.

And every morning before Rachel begins the day, she prays and reads the Scriptures with her family.

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She says she is looking forward to increasing these church-related activities and having a chance to see her friends after Friday.

But until that day gets here, she has to “go on with misery,” Rachel says during a class break, giggling as soon as the final word slips out. She meant to say “chemistry,” she insists.

Don’t get her wrong. Rachel is not dissin’ chemistry, not completely anyway. The teacher, jovial Jim Rogers, is fun and makes the class more bearable, she says. She has three friends from Corona del Mar High who sit next to her and crack jokes when it gets boring. And she figures she’s getting something done--even if she doesn’t like it--by earning 10 credits for the course.

“I try to look at it on the bright side,” Rachel says philosophically, tucking the wayward curls behind her ear. “I’m being productive. I’m learning something. I’m not just sitting on the beach and sleeping my summer away.”

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Chemistry in the summer isn’t really so bad, Rachel concludes.

But then she remembers: She has to wake up at 6:15 so she can make it to class by the time the bell rings an hour later; she has to fight to stay awake for the next five hours; the summer session lasts six long weeks, and there are 22 chapters assigned.

When she’s not at school, she does homework for at least three hours a day. And just about every day, Mr. Rogers gives the class a test.

“I tell myself every day, ‘It’s going to end soon,’ ” Rachel says as the bell rings at the end of the 15-minute break.

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“It’s going to end soon. It’s going to end soon,” she repeats, walking back to the class where Mr. Rogers and the lab await her.


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