Summer school to get ahead? No, to prevent falling behind

Taking a quadratic equation - 2x + 3y = 16 - converting it to a line and placing it on a graph is much easier for Oscar Ornelas the second time around. He learned the concept in seventh grade, but needed review before it sunk in.

"The review is helpful. I feel like I'm learning more," he said.

Though the second look requires him to give up three weeks of his summer vacation, Oscar is glad he's getting help now before he falls behind.

About 50 public school students from Empire and east Modesto have joined Oscar at Johansen High School this summer as part of an Algebra Academy. They will spend three weeks gearing up for algebra, a math class students are required to take in eighth grade, much earlier than in past generations. By reviewing terms and skills students learned last school year and covering a few topics they will learn this coming year, teachers hope students will be less likely to face hurdles.

More and more area summer programs are focusing on students at risk of falling behind by offering them help before they hit that wall. The Algebra Academy is an example, as are various high schools that are holding extra English and math classes for students who might have trouble passing the high school exit exam.

Districts across California are struggling to make never-before-seen budget cuts that have forced many schools, including those in Los Angeles, to eliminate summer school. Most Stanislaus County districts offer the same number of summer classes they have in the recent past.

Nearly 4,400 Modesto City Schools students are enrolled in classes through this month. About three-fourths are remediation classes and a fourth are for students who want to take classes early to allow scheduling flexibility during the school year.

Doing away with summer school is like "shooting yourself in the foot," said Jay Simmonds, assistant superintendent of student support services at Ceres schools. About 3,000 students -- 25 percent of those in Ceres -- are enrolled in summer classes. The most common courses are math, science and English, Simmonds said.

Exit exam help

Summer school used to encompass a mix of students, some making up credit for failing classes and others taking classes to get ahead. Most of today's programs focus on the former.

For example, in Turlock, officials revamped the summer school program to put resources on the students who need it most -- those scoring at the lowest levels on state tests and those who come from low-income families.

Summer classes target students who need to learn English and who need support gearing up for the exit exam. Turlock also changed the way programs are funded, saving about $450,000 from general education accounts by shifting payments to specialized funds.

"It's something we wanted to do, and now was a good opportunity to do it because of the funding reductions from the state," said Lori Decker, chief financial officer at the Turlock Unified School District.

Fewer sites, more students

Salida Union officials also scaled back on summer offerings. They downgraded from five sites to four to save money. Students are bused from neighborhoods where schools are shut this summer, Superintendent Doug Baughn said.

"There's still enough funding, and we feel (summer school) is important to offer," he said.

Oakdale Union's program has more students, 830, than past years, though the district eliminated summer school for first through sixth grades a couple of years ago. Elementary students still receive help throughout the school year in after-school programs, officials said.

Most summer programs remain intact in Stanislaus County, but officials say they are endangered by impending state budget cuts.

"It'll be tough (to find funding next year), but (summer school) gives students self-esteem and self-confidence, and it helps students get turned on to school and understand the value of education," said Lacrisha Ferriera, head of curriculum at Turlock schools. "It helps increase attendance and you see a drop in discipline problems. Benefits go beyond the classroom."

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at or 578-2339.