Public and Private Schools Learning to Work Together : Education: Students in summer enrichment programs are the winners as barriers between two worlds fall.
The midsummer mugginess invading the Polytechnic School in Pasadena couldn’t wilt the moment of academic triumph occurring in Room 26. After weeks of science experiments, Gilbert Holguin and Brian Thorne, both 10, had just become the first pair to devise a system for getting their homemade ice cream mixture to freeze.
On the Westside, 12-year-olds Christina McNeil and Maveli Quijapa spent their summer days discussing literature and honing their math skills at Brentwood School, like Poly one of the area’s priciest, most prestigious private schools.
But tuition and waiting lists did not concern these youngsters, whose summer at the top tier of education in Los Angeles came at no cost to their families. In September, the students will be back in their regular public school classrooms, probably unaware of the roles they played in a new chapter of education history.
The summer programs are examples of the growing collaboration between private and public schools. All but unheard of a decade ago, the phenomenon reflects the recent blurring of the boundaries dividing the two worlds in the face of growing pressure to improve American schools.
“This is a substantial trend,” said Greg Kubiak of the Council for American Private Education, an umbrella organization whose members include most of the nation’s private non-sectarian and parochial school groups. “There is a recognition that, in their need to respond to their communities and families, both sides can learn from each other.”
At Polytechnic and Brentwood, selected public school students, typically very bright but not reaching their potential, get a weeks-long taste of powerhouse academics and individual attention. The students’ regular teachers make the selections and help with school-year follow-up activities aimed at cementing the summer’s gains in skills, motivation and self-esteem.
“This is a good thing to help me get a better education,” Christina said, explaining why she gave up some of her summer to crack the books as never before. “The math is fun. It’s my favorite subject. The hardest is humanities--it’s a lot of work.”
Peter D. Relic, president of the National Assn. of Independent Schools and a former public school superintendent, said that while pairings of private and public schools have been around for a long time, the practice has begun to grow rapidly and taken on the look of a true partnership. Many of the public-private collaborations are generated by independent schools, self-governed campuses that emphasize rigorous academics and individual attention.
“These are not paternalistic relationships,” said Relic, whose organization is working with the U.S. Department of Education to compile information on the numbers and kinds of collaborations.
The partnerships range from sharing teachers to exchanging curriculum or staff development programs and teaming up to seek private foundation funding for projects.
In Philadelphia, for example, the private Springside School for girls teamed up with the public All-Girls High School for a research project on single-sex education. A South Boston public school principal found several boarding schools willing to take promising but underprepared high school graduates and provide them with a year’s worth of college preparation. And since 1990, the public Barclay Elementary School in Baltimore has worked with the private Calvert School nearby, developing curriculum and home study packets and exchanging teachers.
Many of the partnerships, however, take the form of summer enrichment sessions on private campuses, usually carefully coordinated with the participating students’ public school district. Between 200 and 300 such programs were operating throughout the country in 1991, an independent school expert estimated.
Polytechnic School began its tuition-free Skills Enrichment Program with the Pasadena Unified School District and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth in 1990. Last summer, two other Pasadena private schools, Chandler and Westridge, joined the program. In classes held at the three campuses, about 150 elementary students got an intensive five weeks of academics, arts and athletics. The intimate atmosphere created by small classes and individual attention is aimed at giving promising youngsters a boost that will motivate them to aim high throughout their schooling.
Pasadena district officials provide some of the faculty, coordinate school-year follow-up activities and contribute some of the money they receive from the state for each child in summer school. Much of the $190,000 program cost, however, is borne by the three host independent schools, which provide facilities and raise money.
Kristen McGregor, a fifth-grade teacher at Thomas Jefferson Elementary during the regular school year who conducts math classes at Poly during the summer program, said she has seen real growth in the students. “Seeing how far these kids can go, seeing them soar has made me a much stronger teacher,” McGregor said.
Polytechnic Headmaster Alexander B. Babcock said of the program’s origins: “We wanted to have some impact on our own community, and we liked the idea of working with the public school district. . . . Within the first two years, the old fears and stereotypes on both sides got broken down.”
Bruce I. Matsui, deputy superintendent of Pasadena Unified, said the partnership has worked very well for the district’s students, and he believes the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect between the two school worlds is a harbinger of better things to come.
“We’re in an interesting period that is breaking up the delineation between public and private,” Matsui said. “There is a real interest on the part of many educators to rethink what we’re doing and to reinvent schools around ways that maintain student engagement in learning. . . . This may well lead to many kinds of collaborations that we’ve never even thought of before.”
The Brentwood program, begun this year with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, represents the first local branch of Summerbridge, a nationwide program designed to boost academic opportunities for urban students.
Thirty-five middle-school students spent the first of their two summers at Brentwood in tiny classes--five or six students each--taught by high school and college students who are considering teaching careers. Seasoned professionals oversaw the young instructors, helping them plan lessons and polish technique.
While the academic classes were rigorous and students brought home up to three hours of work each afternoon, the Summerbridge staff injected as much fun and informality as possible. Sports, quiz games and “club” meetings were interspersed with classes.
Required morning courses in literature, writing and math were supplemented with electives ranging from foreign languages, chemistry and physics to poetry writing. In the afternoons, students could choose among classes in rap music, arts and crafts, dance and storytelling.
“Sometimes they give us too much homework,” Maveli said of her Summerbridge teachers. “But they are very responsible and they help us with it. They give us their phone numbers so we can call them anytime. They teach us how to take notes, whatever we need.”
When they return to their Santa Monica middle schools in the fall, the Summerbridge students will be offered tutoring, reunions and Saturday enrichment classes to help reinforce the skills and enthusiasm they were exposed to at Brentwood.
“We want to stay in touch and be these kids’ advocates through high school,” said Timothy J. Corcoran, a Brentwood teacher who runs the campus Summerbridge program.
The program cost about $100,000 this year. Brentwood provided facilities and support staff and did the fund raising, along with Summerbridge National.
Summerbridge teachers, an ethnically diverse group just a few years older than the students themselves, are role models who play basketball with the youngsters, hand out their home phone numbers and encourage students to call them by their first names.
“These kids know a lot more than they think they do,” said Lanita Foley, 19, a Stanford student turned literature and Spanish teacher for the summer. “We want them to have fun and to know we are their friends, but we work them hard. We want to give them the skills they need.”
Cesar de la Torre, 12, who attends Santa Monica’s John Adams Middle School, said he didn’t mind all the homework because the program was “fun--and they help you learn. I think it is going to be easier for me in school next year.”
Cesar’s stepfather, Howard Webb, said he and the boy’s mother, an emergency room clerk at UCLA Medical Center, were pleased when their son was chosen for the Summerbridge program.
“He’s a real good kid, but sometimes he had an attitude problem and his grades would slip. He did bring them up when he tried, but he needed more help with studying,” Webb said. “Now he’s real enthused. He’s really trying to set an example for himself.”
Begun in San Francisco in 1978 by former public school teacher Lois Loofbourrow, and now operating 26 programs in 23 U.S. cities and Hong Kong, Summerbridge has been around long enough to have a track record. About 92% of its middle-school-age participants have gone on to take college preparatory courses in high school, and 64% of its young teaching staff have begun careers in education after their college graduations.
Its goal is to provide extra help for talented students, including many minorities living in poverty and children of immigrants, who face “limited educational opportunities.” Nationwide, Summerbridge includes 325 public schools and 82 private non-sectarian and parochial schools, making it one of the biggest and best-known collaborations in the country.
“It helped that I came from the public schools,” Loofbourrow said of launching Summerbridge at San Francisco’s private University High School, whose headmaster also had worked in public schools. “We both knew there was a lot that was good on both sides and it just seemed normal to cooperate.”
Having a friend at a local public school also helped the private Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences in Santa Monica get its community arts program off the ground five years ago, recalled then-Headmaster Paul Cummins.
Driven by budget cuts that were causing public schools to drop art, music, drama and other electives and by his belief that students at elite private schools were “pretty sequestered,” Cummins had an idea for a partnership that he believed would alleviate both concerns.
He took his offer for Crossroads to provide arts programs to public schools to Lana Brody, a former Crossroads parent and the assistant principal at Palms Middle School on Los Angeles’ Westside. Together they started a choral group for Palms students, taught by a Crossroads teacher.
Since then, the program has expanded to include privately funded music, drama and art instruction at five public schools and the Santa Monica Boys and Girls Club. Cummins resigned as headmaster to form the Crossroads Community Foundation, which has raised more than $1 million for teachers, materials and curriculum development.
Although Cummins acknowledged that the collaboration initially was “a little bit of a one-way street,” he is beginning to see signs of “cross-fertilization” between teachers from the participating public schools and Crossroads staff. “I’ve found that quite a few public schools are more innovative than a lot of private schools,” Cummins added.
Despite the success of such projects, several obstacles remain, educators from both sectors say. The complexities of pooling staffs and other resources, especially when both public and private dollars are involved, can be daunting to even the most motivated of partners.
Long-held attitudes of distrust between public and private schools have been heightened in some instances by the divisive debate over whether parents should get taxpayer-financed tuition vouchers for private school.
Public school leaders sometimes resent the resources and the freedom to pick and choose among students enjoyed by some private schools and feel they are being unfavorably and unfairly compared. Some private schools come across like stuck-up neighbors, in part because traditionally many have looked down on public schools as bureaucratic and of low quality.
“Until recently, a typical public-private partnership often possessed a superior/inferior aura, with the independent school in the superior position,” said Alec Lee, director of an outreach program for San Francisco’s prestigious Lick-Wilmerding High School. “The collaborative programs on the educational landscape in 1994 are much more inspiring attempts to mingle resources for the good of the community,” Lee wrote in an academic article on the partnership trend.
Relic, the independent school organization president, said the collaboration movement is still feeling its way. He has seen some partnerships falter when districts or schools change leaders or when school leaders cannot muster the will to surmount the difficulties.
“This is not an unbroken stream,” he said. “We’ll see some stops and starts, some lost progress. But this is growing and growing coast to coast, and I’m sure it is a trend that will continue. All the schools--and society--are going to benefit from it.”