Getting ahead in summer school

August 05, 1994|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

Kenneth Witts is a happy man. He has 25 students who want to study geometry, who chose freely to spend 4 1/2 hours a day, five days a week for five weeks mastering pesky theorems in summer school.

These aren't students who didn't get it the first time. This is their first time.

"I didn't like being in standard math when all my friends are in honors" or G-T [gifted and talented], said Nikki Pontello. By taking geometry with Mr. Witts at Loch Raven High School, she'll be able to take Algebra II as a sophomore at Towson High in the fall and then go on to trigonometry and college algebra.

She and her classmates are part of a small wave of Baltimore County students taking summer school courses for original credit rather than "review credit." It's the first time the county has offered these full-credit courses to students who want to get ahead, rather than just catch up.

"It's a class of high achievers," said Mr. Witts, all of whose students are using the opportunity to move up from standard math classes to honors and G-T programs.

"It's not a typical class. Only three people have missed one day. It's a treat for a teacher," he said.

"With original credit, we are having a true year-round school for the students who want it," said Morris Hoffman, coordinator of the school system's alternative programs and a former high school principal. "There have been those of us who have been asking for years that we do this."

Most other school systems in the area offer original credit courses, and many have done so for years. Anne Arundel County does not have any original credit courses this year but has in the past.

About 1,960 students are in high school summer school at five sites in Baltimore County, but officials won't know exactly how many are taking them for original credit until summer school ends today, Mr. Hoffman said.

Original-credit courses cost $100, twice as much as the remedial courses, because they are twice as long. All summer school students must pay tuition, except those with low family incomes that qualify them for free lunches.

At Loch Raven, about 70 students are in three original-credit math courses and another 130 are taking half-credit classes, said principal Donna Kowalczyk.

At Perry Hall High, 16 students are taking 11th-grade English for original credit and nine others are tackling the health course. At Lansdowne Middle School, 23 students are enrolled in one social studies class and three English classes. Students are also enrolled in summer school at Owings Mills High School and General John Stricker Middle School.

"The reasons they are here are as varied as the colors of the clothes they wear," said Ed Dick, who is teaching English at Perry Hall to students from seven county high schools and one high school in Venezuela.

Jennifer Marin, the Venezuelan student, is visiting her mother and reluctantly "doing summer school" in Baltimore County. She failed a course in ninth grade in Venezuela and needs the credits to graduate.

"I don't like it. It's too long," she said of the American literature course that runs from 8 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.

But classmate Jessica Li says she's impressed with how much she can learn in a few weeks.

"It's great," said Jessica, who moved here from China 18 months ago. "I want to take art next year and my schedule was kind of heavy. . . . I thought this was a good idea," she said.

She said long classes here are no problem because in China she went to school from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m..

Mr. Dick's class is diverse. Some of his students are going through 11th-grade English for a second or even a third time. But they missed so many classes during the school year they didn't qualify for the remedial English course, which runs only two hours a day.

"I had an attendance problem in my school, so I'm here to make up this class," said Kenwood student Andre Williams, who had trouble getting to first period English on time, especially when schools opened a half-hour early to make up for snow days.

"That just messed me up," he said.

Although Andre said he's used to sleeping "until early afternoon" when school's out, he's enjoying summer school. "It's got a little excitement," he said, and there are new people to meet. Also, his mother drives him to Perry Hall, so he has no excuse for not getting there.

Because the summer curriculum is concentrated, there's little room for lateness or absence. "If you miss four days, you are gone," said Mr. Dick.

Mr. Witts figures that he teaches nine weeks' worth of geometry every six class days. "The key is, you've got to be here," he said. "They have to get it the first time."

The original-credit courses mean more work for everyone, although Mr. Witts said his students hold up better than he does. He switches activities frequently and gives the students time to work with one another.

"It's pretty hard, but not so hard I can't do it," said Niki Dennison, a Towson High sophomore. "You have to remember everything you have learned. There's a test every day."

The students in Susan Euker's health class at Perry Hall see a lot of advantages to summer school. "There's a lot less tension, and there's a smaller number of people," said Perry Hall student George Zhang.

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