By Terry Dean
Adopting an "early start" to the school year approach, District 97 will relaunch its Oak Park summer school program this year with longer sessions timed not with the close of this school year but rather in preparation for the fall term.
Instead of starting in June and running only three weeks, the new model, dubbed "Prep for Success," will run five days a week. It'll take place closer to the end of summer, officials said, to better prepare kids for the start of the school year.
The new model follows the early start concept district officials have been kicking around this spring.
Pending approval by the D97 school board later this month, students will attend classes starting in late July for four weeks, ending just before the start of the fall semester.
A "summer school task force" of teachers and administrators developed the new model. Longfellow, Holmes and Brooks Middle School will house the early start program. Also new this summer will be the participation of pre-kindergarten students in the program.
Lisa Schwartz, D97's curriculum coordinator, said about 150 kids are expected to participate in the "Prep for Success" program this summer, roughly the same amount that would normally attend summer school. Schwartz noted summer school in the district features several additional programs serving specific populations of kids.
Last summer, about 450 kids participated overall, including about 160 in what the district described as an "early start" program. But officials acknowledge summer school has not been very effective over the years and needed an overhaul.
"There were interesting conversations on how can we think differently about what summer school looks like;" Schwartz said, "from everything to structure to timeline to how do we make it a motivating experience for students, not something that's punitive for students where you're told you have to go to summer school."
Part of the overhaul, Schwartz said, will also involve looking at what's being taught.
"One of the things we found is we have inconsistencies with curriculum, that things were kind of just put together and there wasn't consistency across the district," she said. "So we're looking at a more consistent model of what kids are experiencing, as well as how we're assessing them."
In revamping summer school, district officials said they also want to remove the stigma associated with kids having to attend.
"I think sometimes we call things remedial and tell youngsters you need to go here because you're not smart enough, when if we just took the other side of the coin and said, 'These kids have talents; they need some skill development in some areas but we want to have some fun with this,' we'll get much better results," said Supt. Albert Roberts.
Later this month, the D97 school board will vote on the new model. Roberts and Schwartz presented their recommendation to the board on Feb. 28. School board members were pleased with the new model. Roberts noted that this summer's enrollment projection is relatively small given the number of kids in the district needing extra help. But if successful, Roberts noted the program could expand.
"If it's wildly successful we're going to have a very nice problem to have in trying to budget for next year," he said.
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