Chicago Public Schools has a record number of students— close to 140,000— enrolled in summer school this year. More than 30,000 are enrolled in Summer Bridge, a mandatory program for 3rd-, 6th- and 8th-graders whose scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills are too low for them to be promoted to the next level.
Last year, Bridge enrollment was 25,072. School Board officials attribute the increase to the higher cut-off scores required for promotion this year.
Other remedial programs, such as Early Intervention for 1st- and 2nd-graders, account for another 20,000 students. Another 15,000 are enrolled in academic enrichment programs, such as elementary school geometry and high school journalism. The rest are in bilingual programs, special education classes or CPS-run summer camps.
Summer school is also booming this year in other big city school districts, such as New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.
But at least one Chicago grade school is bucking the trend. Summer school enrollment at Hans Christian Andersen Elementary in Wicker Park is 204, down 50 percent from last year, says Principal Suzanne Dunaway, who credits rising test scores. Over the last five years, the school has doubled the number of students who score at or above national norms. This spring, most of Andersen’s 3rd-graders passed and the school did not have enough students for 3rd-grade Bridge. The few who didn’t pass were sent to nearby Pritzker Elementary or to a school closer to their homes.
Hallways at Andersen are quiet and empty, save for a security guard seated at a desk by the front entrance, positioned so he can keep an eye on both the school’s main hallway to his right and the entry straight ahead. Classrooms are neat, students are orderly. One or two writing tutors assist teachers in the two 8th-grade classrooms by checking classwork and helping students one-on-one.
In contrast, summer school has taken over Florence B. Price Elementary School in Bronzeville. Hallways are constantly abuzz with teachers and students and tutors and volunteers and anyone else Principal Carl Lawson has invited into the school.
Lawson prides himself on his big-tent approach to summer school, encouraging students who don’t have to be there to help out as tutors or teacher aides. Many do, and on any given day, there can be five or six student helpers in a classroom of a dozen kids. Lawson himself is comfortable in a crowd, often juggling a few conversations—with students, visiting teachers and parents—outside the front office.
Price’s summer school enrollment swelled to 339 this year, up 53 percent from last year. Most of the increase is due to Lawson agreeing to accommodate 88 8th- and 9th-graders from nearby Dyett Middle School, who needed to catch up in math and reading.
Only 40 students who signed up for a dance and drama program at Price are at the school by choice. The rest are taking remedial classes, including 36 students for 3rd-grade Bridge, enough to fill two classrooms.
While Price and Andersen are, in some ways, on opposite ends of the summer school scale, they also share a couple key traits. For one, teachers at both schools complain about the board-mandated curriculum used in Bridge and other remedial programs. “These children need more basic training than these programs provide,” says Mark Wigler, a kindergarten teacher at Andersen who is teaching a low-achieving 1st-graders this summer.
The schools other common trait: Sweltering classrooms with no air-conditioners.
Monday, June 18
The calm before the storm
Price Principal Carl Lawson gathers 16 teachers and six staffers into the cafeteria at 8:30 a.m. for a pre-summer school pep talk. Classes start tomorrow.
“Patience is probably the most important thing,” he tells them. “You’ll be dealing with students who don’t want to be here.”
Lawson notes that the teachers will have some extra help from university students who have been hired by CPS as tutors for the summer. He then polls the room to find out if coffee should be prepared every morning. Teachers’ overwhelming response: “Yes.”
He reminds them that there are no field trips. Also, if teachers want to take their students for a walk around school grounds, they must keep them together, he says.
“Good luck and have a great summer,” says Lawson.
Later in the afternoon at Andersen, Principal Suzanne Dunaway is in her office examining class rosters and making sure she’s prepared in case of any last-minute crises. Just then, teacher Michael Flynn pops in to tell Dunaway he doesn’t have enough reading workbooks for his 8th grade class.
Dunaway immediately hits the phone trying to get Flynn more workbooks. “My assistant principal, who’s the summer school coordinator, is on vacation this week,” says a distracted Dunaway.
This summer, Dunaway is particularly interested in her 8th graders. Many scored well enough on the Iowa test to graduate, but they failed to do their classwork. “It’s not that they can’t do the work; it’s will they do the work?”
Tuesday, June 19
higher test scores
On this, the first day of summer school, Andersen teacher Rebecca Gipson has a rhetorical question for her 8th-grade math class. “We have two goals this summer. Anyone want to guess what they are?”
As one student quietly answers “pass,” Gipson continues. “Number one for some of you is to graduate in August. That means you need the Iowa scores. Number two is classwork. Some need classwork to leave because they neglected to do the work during the year.”
“We will meet these goals,” Gibson says.
Nathan Martinez and Abraham Franco are two of the students who need the classwork. Both failed reading and math classes during the school year. Nathan says he failed because he tested into a higher level class than he had in previous years and the work was too difficult.
Abraham has a different reason. “I knew how to do the work,” he says. “I would do it and leave it at home. That was a problem.”
This summer, Nathan and Abraham must attend class regularly, complete all of their assignments and get a grade no lower than a C to move on to high school.
Wednesday, June 20
Second year in summer school
Price teacher Lestine Vines’ 3rd-grade classroom is crowded. Along with her 13 students, she has five tutors in her classroom—four of them are upper-grade Price students, who are volunteers; the fifth is a university student, one of six CPS-funded tutors working at the school this summer.
Vines’ lesson today is straight out of the School Board’s 3rd-grade Bridge reading comprehension workbook. Students read a short passage on African elephants, then must recall specific facts. How much does the elephant weighs? What does it eat?
Vines moves around the room asking questions, tossing in a bit of math as well. “If the male elephant weighs 6 tons and the female weighs 4 tons, how many more tons does the male weigh?” she asks. “Two,” says 9-year-old Rozelle Milton. “Good. Very good,” says Vines.
During the regular school year, Vines teaches 5th grade. This is her second year teaching 3rd-graders in summer school. “If I can keep up the pace, 85 percent will pass—if they come every day,” she says. Last year, most of her 3rd-graders attended class regularly and nine out of 12 moved on to 4th grade.
Brandi McCambry, 10, is one of the three who didn’t. She’s back in Vines summer school class for a second year, and she’s off to an shaky start. Vines singles her out for talking during the lesson, her voice switching from breezy to stern. “I’m not here to play, I’m here to help you.” Brandi says nothing.
Vines is at a loss for what to do for Brandi. In only six weeks, Vines has to do what another teacher couldn’t do in 10 months. She uses the board’s curriculum, but wishes she had supplemental materials—additional 3rd-grade storybooks, for instance—to help Brandi and other struggling students. “I’ll do the best I can.”
Monday, June 25
Success for some
Early Intervention is the board’s attempt to help struggling 1st- and 2nd-grade students before they are subject to high-stakes testing in 3rd grade. Classes are held four days a week for five weeks; in Bridge, students attend five days a week for six weeks.
Early Intervention is in its second year, but the program’s track record is uncertain. This spring, 3rd-grade test scores dropped, a sign that last summer’s crop of struggling 2nd-graders didn’t fare well even with extra help. On July 19, this year’s students will be tested in reading and math, but their scores will be used solely to assess skill level.
Today, Andersen teacher Mark Wigler’s 1st-graders are simply eager to draw in their workbooks and keep cool in the steamy classroom. Andersen does not require summer school students to wear uniforms. Still, the 1st-graders in Wigler’s fan-cooled class wear similar outfits: T-shirts, shorts and sandals.
Wigler follows suit. His T-shirt, emblazoned “Success For All,” is as much a choice for comfort as a declaration of his teaching expertise.
Success For All is a well-regarded, structured reading program developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The program is geared toward early reading development and centers on 90 minutes of uninterrupted daily reading instruction.
Before joining Andersen as a kindergarten teacher last year, Wigler spent a year as a Success For All trainer on the East Coast. He was introduced to the curriculum model in 1995 as a teacher at Reed Elementary in Englewood.
Andersen began using Success for All about the same time, says Dunaway. Since then, the school’s test scores have improved dramatically. In 1996, only 17 percent of Andersen students scored at or above national norms on the Iowa reading test. By 2001, 35 percent were scoring at or above national norms on the test.
Wigler says Success For All works, particularly at the kindergarten level, because it’s an all-day program—students are completely immersed. In June, 22 of his 24 kindergartners ended the year reading above a 1st-grade level. “The program does work,” he emphasizes.
But Wigler is not allowed to use Success For All’s reading strategies in summer school. The board requires summer school teachers to follow its mandated curriculum. “I do not, at this point, particularly care for it,” Wigler says.
Upstairs, in a second-floor classroom, Michael Flynn is not satisfied with the School Board’s summer curriculum either. Yet, in fitting irony, he has had to photocopy pages from the lone reading workbook he has because the school did not get enough books to distribute to students. (Additional workbooks arrive at Andersen the next day, a week after classes had started.)
During the regular school year, Flynn often goes beyond traditional strategies to teach his Otis Elementary 5th-graders reading. He will invite local newscasters and journalists to read stories to the class. Or he’ll take students on a field trip to a nearby cemetery to see the graves of people they’re studying.
Teaching 8th-graders this summer is his way of sharpening his teaching skills. “You can get isolated at one school and wonder if you can relate to all kids,” he says.
Flynn wants to keep students on their toes. Today they are getting practice in answering questions fast. Speed is important, says Flynn, because quickness will count when they retake the Iowa tests at the end of July.
Students read a comic book story, then they have 10 minutes to answer 12 questions that Flynn has written on the board. “I want complete sentences,” he says. “This should be easy for you. Some of these [questions] are gimmes.”
“I’m opposed to the way the board does summer school,” Flynn says. “All you’re doing is getting kids to retrieve information.”
Test-taking strategy includes teaching students how to recognize wrong answers. “If the underlined word is negative, you can rule out all positive answer choices,” according to a test prep workbook.
“It’s not teaching right answers,” Flynn notes.
June 29 – July 11
Friday, June 29
Price teacher sweetens the pot
For the past week, Vines has been using carrots and sticks, or rather, candy and sticks, to motivate her 3rd-graders at Price. If they complete all of their assignments, they will get a bag of goodies at week’s end.
This morning, Vines is asking students about a story they were supposed to read for homework. What was the most important point, she asks. Some have an answer when Vines calls on them, others return her question with a blank stare.
“If you spend 15, 20, 30 minutes a day reading, you’ll do well,” Vines admonishes. “If you go home and do nothing, you’ll stay in 3rd grade.”
Vines continues the lesson, which calls for the students to take a short test on the story being discussed. While the students are busy taking the test, Vines unveils a mountain of goodies stacked on a cluttered desk. Cheese curls, candy bars, sweet rolls, lollipops, cotton candy and three enormous jars of pickles.
She takes a quick survey of the room to find out which students completed all of the homework assignments. Only five raise their hands. Brandi is not one of them. Vines says Brandi did not turn in homework last summer either.
Vines tells the tutor and the student volunteers to decide which students deserve to share in the bounty of sweets. The tutor and the volunteers step into the hallway for several minutes while the students sit silently in the classroom.
The jurors return swiftly with a verdict: “Only the [students] who did all of their work will get the treats,” says tutor Joseph Stovall.
Stovall, a 21-year-old education major at Allen University in South Carolina, offers a promise to those who missed out. “Next week, if you others do your work, then you’ll get treats,” he says.
The volunteers hand out brown paper bags stuffed with goodies to the five students who completed their assignments. The other students look on—some calmly, a few visibly upset. “The other kids will absolutely do their work next week,” Vines says later.
The following week more students—though not all—complete their assignments, including Brandi. This time Vines asks each student if they think they deserve treats. Some say “no,” explaining that they didn’t finish their work. Still, Vines, feeling generous, doles out goodies to everyone.
Tuesday, July 3
Everybody dance now
Forty Price students have signed up for a free dance and drama enrichment program. The students, who range from 4th to 8th grades, are split into two classes. One group takes drama for 90 minutes, then switches to dance; the other group begins with dance then takes drama. The five-week program, which runs four days a week from 8 a.m to 11 a.m., culminates with a dance and drama performance.
About 10 students have been showing up regularly for the voluntary courses, say teachers Elizabeth Rich and Lin Shook, who work with Urban Gateways, a nonprofit arts education group. Today, there are only eight students in Shook’s first dance class.
Shook reviews what they learned yesterday, leading students through a fairly complex routine of spinning, jumping and posing variations. “…five, six, seven, eight. Walk, one, two …”
For a while, the kids follow along. Then, their attention wanes. A few begin to talk and goof off. One girl leans against the wall, her arms folded stubbornly across her chest. By the end of class, most have lost interest.
Still, Shook says her students are doing better—at least they’ve mastered some of the routine. “It’s not an easy dance combination,” she says.
Her second dance class is a bit more advanced. They will perform a dance interpretation of the Chicago Fire. The recital is in two weeks.
Thursday, July 5
Today, Flynn continues drilling his 8th-graders at Andersen. The task: Write a sentence for each of the vocabulary words written on the board.
Student Nathan Martinez begins writing definitions for each word. Flynn, who is meandering around the room, does not catch Nathan’s error until he and the rest of the class are finishing up. “You didn’t follow the directions,” Flynn says.
Nathan smiles and laughs. Flynn takes away Nathan’s answer sheet and instructs him to complete the assignment for homework. “Nathan, it would be a Shakespearean tragedy if you had all this ability and I had to fail you,” Flynn threatens.
Nathan smiles and laughs again, but later he says he is annoyed by Flynn’s badgering. “I don’t like him [but] I know I can do the work,” he says.
Wednesday, July 11
Things get serious
Nathan is making more headway in math. He and his colleague Abraham Franco usually finish their in-class assignment before the rest of the class, says teacher Rebecca Gipson. So she has them studying pre-Algebra. “They’ve been working on it fairly diligently,” she says.
So far, Nathan and Abraham have perfect attendance and, for the most part, they’ve been doing they’re work, say two of their teachers. But the clock is ticking for those who have to retake the Iowa tests.
Today, Gipson’s math class reflects the get-serious atmosphere at the school. Desks that had previously been loosely arranged in small groups are now lined up in five even rows facing the front of the room. Students are hunched over their workbooks, concentrating on a word problem.
Test prep has kicked into high gear. Gipson describes it as a necessary evil. “It’s too bad the test is weighted so heavily, but the Bridge workbook is totally geared toward taking the test and passing,” she says.
Next: How will students at Andersen and Price fare on the Iowa tests?