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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Pinellas summer school program enrollment to begin

CLEARWATER - The brochures are printed, the lessons set for the Pinellas County school district's new summer school program, which could have students in class for about 10 percent of their vacation. Enrollment opens Monday and runs through March 20 for Summer Bridge, a free six-week summer course meant to narrow the growing achievement gap among 12,000 low-income and minority students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The district has already identified more than 10,000 academically struggling students for the program, and more invitations will go out in May after schools receive their third-graders' reading scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, said Director of Elementary Education Kathleen Young-Parker. But even if their children aren't targeted for the Monday through Thursday program, parents should consider Summer Bridge — and quickly, said school board member Rene Flowers.
"I think we're going to have more requests for attendance than we think," she said. "Local municipalities will be going on their summer break, and parents will be calling and looking for a program for their child, and this is free and educational. So we need to be prepared to take a lot of phone calls." Rising kindergarteners through third-graders will attend the program from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., middle and high school students from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Free lunch and breakfast will be provided, and the Juvenile Welfare Board will offer some transportation to and from schools. Child care will be provided from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., including Fridays. The district has offered summer programs for years, but never on this scale. The elementary summer school program is being expanded from five schools to 27, and all middle and high schools except three that will be under construction this summer will offer classes. Last summer's 300 instructors will be increased to 1,250, depending on student enrollment. Reading, math and science will be taught in 90-minute sessions in middle schools and high schools and in 15- or 20-minute increments in elementary schools. Students can also retake failed algebra, biology and geometry end-of-course exams and work on any unfinished coursework they need to be promoted to the next grade. Hands-on science experiments and multimedia projects will help keep the atmosphere fun, and teachers will determine exactly which skills each student needs to improve. "We're very excited," Young said. "We wanted it to be very inviting to our families, where they're like 'Oh my God, I really want my child to take advantage of this.' It's almost like a camp instead of the stigma of a boring summer school." Last year, 600 high school students took advantage of summer school programs, but this year district officials are hoping for 1,700 to 1,900. Studies and feedback from principals have shown that students actually enjoy going to summer programs at their school, said Rita Vasquez, the school district's director of middle and high school education. Many of the students are in a "pass or fail" situation. "We know that if these kids stay in those low categories for reading and math, once they enter high school they will be looked at as at-risk students by the state, and they will stay at-risk the entire four years that they're with us," Vasquez said. "We also know that their graduation rates are significantly lower than students who are not labeled at-risk." In Pinellas County, 44 percent of third-graders read below grade level, and 52 percent of eighth-graders scored below grade level in math, according to the Florida Department of Education. About 28 percent of Pinellas students don't graduate with their classes. Fourth- and fifth-grade classes won't be offered, but many middle schools are offering their own programs, said Superintendent Michael Grego. The full cost of the program won't be known until students are enrolled and teachers are hired. The school district will pay for the program out of academic intervention funding from the state, he said. "We're not going to overhire … but there's a lot of need out there, and we want these dollars to go as far as they can," Grego said. "So far, we're in really, really good shape, and we'll learn and make adjustments as we go along." Parents can register their students at http://bit.ly/YPKJxo.

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