Thursday, June 18, 2015

Changing district policies put new spins on summer school offerings

Originally published in print in Westerville's ThisWeek News and online here

Bus transportation and meals are being offered to middle school students, and for the first time, kindergarten students can enroll

Wednesday June 10, 2015 2:10 PM

Even though schools are out for the summer, the learning continues in Westerville City Schools.

The district offers summer school classes for all grades including -- for the first time this year -- kindergarten. More than 69 kindergarten students registered.

Also new this year is bus transportation to Genoa Middle School for students in grades 6-8 and breakfast and lunch being provided for those middle-school level students.

That means all registered students now have access to transportation to summer programming and all participating students in grades K-8 will have access to breakfast and lunch.

At the high school level, a handful of blended-learning courses using online teaching are offered, in addition to physical education and Ohio Graduation Test preparation classes.

Scott Ebbrecht, the district's director of alternative education services and assessment, said high school students choose to attend summer school for a variety of reasons.

"Some do it for course acceleration, so it frees up time in their schedule to potentially take a college-level course," he said. "Others take the classes for credit recovery or grade replacement, where they might have failed a class and want to retake it for a better grade."

The Westervillel Board of Education adopted a new policy Dec. 8 which allows students who, during high school, participate in athletics, marching band or cheerleading for at least two full seasons, the option to be excused from the physical education graduation requirement.

Because of this new waiver, only 101 students signed up for summer gym class, versus 334 students who enrolled last year.

"Students are taking advantage of this new opportunity," he said. "Now, they have room in their schedule to take an elective class of their choice."

The new waiver caused a significant drop in all high school summer school enrollment. This year, 263 high school students are signed up for summer school whereas last year, 492 students enrolled.

However, enrollment in math and science summer school classes increased this year from 107 to 123.

High school summer classes use digital content and offer students a flexible schedule to learn the material while possibly simultaneously working a summer job.

"We believe that using digital content, students still need to form a relationship with a teacher and need help from them, but that by working at home, at their own pace, they can best take ownership of their learning," Ebbrecht said.

For students in grades K-8, Westerville offers the "Passport to Success" program in the summer.

Students who are identified as needing intervention, especially in reading and math, are invited to participate.

More than 512 elementary school students are participating this year, which is the highest number in three years.

Program administrator for grades K-3, Melissa Krempasky, said summer school provides an opportunity for students to maintain or increase their current reading level.

"Research shows that at-risk kids need to read every day or receive some form of instruction, or else they could potentially lose skills they learned during the school year," she said.

Students risk losing one to two reading levels over the summer if they do not stay involved, Krempasky said.

Ebbrecht agreed that students should continue to enhance their knowledge, even when school is out of session.

"I believe that summer regression is a problem, depending on what students are spending their time on," he said. "Through the summer learning opportunities in Westerville, we hope to provide structured activities to extend learning and enhance reading strategies and math skills."

Krempasky said she has wanted to offer summer school for kindergartners for several years.

"Now, we can help at-risk kids more and give them a solid start to first grade," she said.

Ohio Graduation Test Intervention courses and tests also are offered over the summer. Students can take the June 4-12 course and then take the test the next week.

In 2014, 140 students in grades 10-12 enrolled in OGT prep classes and in 2015, 99 students are enrolled.