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Summer Students Catching Up While Others Catch Rays

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Summer.

You go to the beach. You play basketball. You ride your bike. You chase the ice cream truck. Maybe you catch a firefly or two.

Right?

Think again.

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For thousands of Ventura County students summer still means textbooks, pencils, note pads, teachers and exams.

In the Oxnard Union High School District alone, about 5,000 students--or 40% of the student body--will begin summer school next week. About 1,500 students have signed up for summer classes in Conejo Valley schools, 1,200 in Moorpark, and nearly 2,000 in Simi Valley. At Ventura’s two high schools, about 900 students began summer classes Monday.

Some are going because they have to. State law requires school districts to offer summer school to high school students who need makeup classes to graduate.

But for others it’s a personal choice.

“It’s fun to have something to do in the summer,” said Alondra Dorado. Just days after finishing the eighth grade at Cabrillo Middle School, the 14-year-old Ventura girl is sitting in a Ventura High School classroom with 35 fellow summer students. Following the advice of a teacher, Alondra enrolled in a class intended to make the transition into high school smoother. “I have a lot of friends in high school, and I look forward to coming here next year,” Alondra said.

Fourteen-year-old Mike O’Donnell said he hopes to bone up on algebra so he can take an advanced math class when he attends Thousand Oaks High School in the fall.

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“I signed up myself,” he said. “And I am glad I am taking it because it will help me for college.”

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His friends Nick Rutherford and Bobby Ruyle also chose to enroll. They are taking a high school health class now so they can skip it as freshmen, leaving at least one slot in their schedules open for electives.

“I don’t really like it,” said Nick, 13, who will attend Westlake High in September. “Summer and school, they don’t really go together. But at least I am getting health out of the way.”

Others following similar plans said there is another reason to sacrifice sleeping in and hanging out at the beach for classrooms and homework.

Summer classes are shorter and seem easier, they said.

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In most districts, summer classes are fast-paced. In three- to five-week sessions, students complete the equivalent of a semester’s course work. Classes are usually four hours a day, five days a week.

“I hate getting up early in the morning, but the classes are only for three weeks, so it’s pretty cool,” said 14-year-old Stacey Gradle.

“It goes really fast,’ agreed her friend, Erin Finsten. “And my sister told me that it is easier.”

Both girls will carry full course loads--minus one health class--at Thousand Oaks High in the fall.

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At the Oxnard district’s five high schools, summer students are divided between those who are there to catch up and those who are there to get ahead, said Gary Davis, assistant superintendent of educational services. In the past two years, the number of students taking remedial classes increased after the district stiffened its graduation requirements, Davis said.

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At Ventura High, the makeup of summer classes is similar, said summer Principal Robert Collins. The courses offered focus on the basics--math, English, science and social studies.

And in some districts, summer classes are part of the bargain for all kids. At the Oxnard district, for instance, school is held year round and the students are divided along four tracks. Students in each track are on staggered three-months-on, one-month-off schedules, which means a quarter of the students are out of school each month.

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