Pinellas expects 8,500 students in Summer Bridge program
CLEARWATER – When Terrilyn George decided to enroll her 9-year-old son in the Pinellas County School District’s new summer school program, she knew she would have to find a way to make it more appealing. “They say it will be an interactive way for students to learn without all the pressure they feel during the school year, with activities and experiments and such,” George said. “I told him he is going to have so much fun and not every kid gets to go to a summer camp like this. He has to wake up at 7 a.m., so I really hope at the end of the day I was right.” The K-12 Summer Bridge program, which starts Monday at schools across the district, is the school district’s largest summer school initiative, meant to curb summer learning losses for students who are struggling to keep up in school. Students will study, math, science and writing four days a week, though the main emphasis of the free program is on helping students improve reading comprehension skills. As the week continues, school district officials are hoping to see more students enroll. “He came into school on grade level, but after the summer, even though I worked with him myself, he fell behind,” George said of her son. “The summer time is always a struggle because you have to come up with things for your kid to do, so this helps fill some of those hours.”As of last week, enrollment in the Summer Bridge program was around 8,500, with about 6,200 in elementary school and 2,300 in middle school. About 1,600 students have signed up in the past two weeks, and Superintendent Michael Grego said enrollment will remain open for at least the first few days of the program, as students review FCAT scores and summer plans. The numbers are “phenomenal,” Grego said, though officials originally envisioned 12,000 academically struggling students in the program. Students receive free breakfast and lunch, and before and aftercare will be provided from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. School supplies are provided and a list of local schools hosting the program is available on the school board website. “Some students need a year’s worth of learning in more than a year’s worth of time,” Grego said. “We have plans for no shows the first day, this isn’t mandatory, and we have people calling about it … Things are going very aggressively, but were very encouraged with that.” Students in three grade levels improved their FCAT reading scores this year. Sixth-grade student scores increased by four points, eighth-grade by two points and tenth-grade by three points, Grego said. Fourth- and eighth-graders improved their math scores by one point. Third-grade students are required to pass the reading FCAT before being promoted to fourth grade. The school district is still in the process of hiring more teachers as more students sign up, Grego said. “We’ll have a very, very busy summer,” Grego said.