It may be summer, but learning goes on Parents want kids to keep up, and few seem to mind

July 01, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Maryland parents don't want year-round schools, but a growing number want their children learning year-round.

Eager for their children to keep up or get ahead, parents increasingly are seeing to it that they devote the lazy, hazy days of summer to serious summer schools, specialty camps, private tutoring, community-college classes and organized home schools.

Many parents, educators and trend watchers say it is another sign of the cut-throat competition of the 1990s' work world seeping into an aspect of childhood once considered sacrosanct: carefree summers.

"This is part of the competitiveness trend that's been developing in the past few years," says Gerald Celente, director of the Trends Research Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y. "Every edge counts. Parents see it in their own everyday life, and many of them are making sure their children don't miss any chance to get that edge."

And perhaps surprisingly, many young students say they don't mind summer schoolwork at all.

"The classes are pretty much fun," says 9-year-old James Johnson of Odenton. "It's not like regular school."

The fourth-grader is among 2,000 pupils enrolled this summer in a month-long, morning academy run by the Anne Arundel County school system. It is aimed at ensuring that students' skills don't fall victim to what's often referred to as "summer learning loss" or the "forgetting curve."

Anne Arundel parents protested loudly last winter when school officials proposed cutting back on the academy -- protests that forestalled the cuts. Enrollment this summer is the same as last, even though the school system eliminated free bus service to the academy.

"It's really important for my kids to keep up with their studies and get ahead," says James' mother, Sharon Johnson, who also sends her daughter, Anita, to the academy. "The world is too competitive to let them not do anything during the summer."

Some parents are running their own summertime academies -- in their homes.

According to Jo Harding's plan, her 7-year-old, Zachary Harding, will sit down at the kitchen table in Elkridge every morning this summer for 15 minutes to wrestle with such academic exercises as solving crossword puzzles -- before heading out to play.

His exercises are outlined in grade-level books that have been compiled by Harding and other Rockburn Elementary parents, approved by his teachers at the school and distributed to hundreds of other Rockburn students by the school's PTA.

Last year -- the first that Rockburn promoted this "Summer Push-Up Program" -- 44 percent of the school's students completed the summer schoolwork, earning gold medals in a school assembly in the fall.

"I'm not so supercompetitive that I want Zachary to get ahead of where he should be," Harding says. "I just want to be sure he doesn't lose anything. It makes a difference when he goes back in the fall, because they have testing right away for reading and math groups."

Most summer programs throughout the Baltimore area also report growing interest and enrollment, from summer reading drives at local libraries to tutoring services offering math and reading reviews. A few are free, but many carry fees -- as much as $1,800 for a three-week residential program for particularly gifted students at the Johns Hopkins University.

This summer, 8-year-old Frederick Lewis Jr. will attend a free six-week course of reading and math run by Sylvan Learning Center at his neighborhood school, Thomas G. Hayes Elementary in East Baltimore -- much to his father's delight. "I don't want him losing anything," says Frederick Lewis Sr.

But some of the most sought-after summer programs go far beyond just making sure students keep up.

At Howard Community College, spaces in two summer preparation classes for students taking the PSAT filled this spring almost as soon as they were offered. The PSAT is a pretest for the Scholastic Aptitude Test that doesn't even count for college admissions and is used primarily to select a handful of students for scholarship money.

"We have such a big waiting list that we decided to expand the classes from 12 to 15, and when I called mothers to let them know their children had been let in, the response I got was like they had won the lottery," says Sara Baum, the program's administrator. "Mom and dad want their kids to get ahead in their studies.

"They're seeing how hard it can be to succeed today, so they don't want their children missing out on anything that could help them do a little better."

Johns Hopkins' Institute for Academic Advancement of Youth -- accelerated classes for gifted students in such subjects as geology and computer science -- has seen enrollment at its campus and 11 other sites around the country double in just five years, from 3,500 to 7,000 pupils.

Educators generally endorse summertime academics. In many schools, a month or more of class time each fall often is spent reviewing material learned the previous year.

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