ST. PETERSBURG — Almost 12,000 students headed back to the classroom Tuesday for the second installment of Pinellas County’s wide-sweeping Summer Bridge program.
The summer program is bigger than last year’s inaugural run, with a new Algebra Boot Camp and teacher training courses thrown into the mix — a near perfect match to the goals schools Superintendent Michael Grego promoted two years ago when he first pitched the idea.
As of Tuesday, 11,756 students had enrolled at an estimated cost of $2.4 million, and enrollment is ongoing. Last summer, about 9,000 students enrolled, which cost $3.1 million in Title I federal funding to pay for 495 teachers, supplies and materials.
In elementary school, 7,424 students are enrolled; there are 1,860 in middle school and 2,472 in high school. More are expected since the state Department of Education released the end-of-course exam scores last week, Grego said. The program is free for eligible students identified by test scores and teacher recommendations.
“I’m thrilled,” Grego said of the enrollment. “It makes me a little bit nervous, but excited, too.”
The county’s “turnaround schools,” which have spent the school year in intense efforts to boost student achievement, saw some of the largest enrollment numbers, with 181 students at Maximo Elementary, 178 at Melrose Elementary, 346 at Fairmount Park Elementary and 131 at Pinellas Park Middle.
The program runs Monday through Thursday June 17 to July 24 and targets students who are falling behind academically or need to recover course credits. The idea is to mask reading, science and math lessons with interactive experiments and hands-on activities in small classrooms, creating a fun atmosphere that’s more comparable to a summer camp than a summer school, Grego said.
Students attend from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., with meals included. Groups such as the R’Club, YMCA and the Largo Highlands Recreation Center provide day care from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
In addition to the students, more than 8,000 teachers and support staff have enrolled in extensive professional development courses offered during the summer. Some new special-education teachers and St. Petersburg College education students will use Summer Bridge classrooms as a training ground.
When Grego introduced Summer Bridge, his goal was to reach 12,000 students, though about half that number attended. Now that parents have seen the impact Summer Bridge has had on struggling students, more are willing to enroll their kids in the voluntary program, he said.
More programs and schools, particularly in low-income areas, have been added to Summer Bridge, with 31 elementary schools, 17 middle schools and all 17 high schools open to students. Rising high school freshmen and sophomores who struggle in math can participate in the new Algebra I Boot Camp to help them pass the end-of-course exam, now required for high school graduation. According to scores released Monday by the Department of Education, 61 percent of Pinellas students passed the exam this school year.
Eligible students still may register for Summer Bridge at the school district’s website, and school officials urge parents to enroll their children as soon as possible to ensure that they get a seat.
“I am excited about Summer Bridge. I’m not responsible for 11,000, but I sure have been referring people there when they’re asking questions about their child and their academic performance,” school board member Rene Flowers said. “I’m just so excited to hear that parents are embracing that and we’re gearing up to get the kids going and motivated to learn.”