The city school system deals with higher enrollment than expected, leaving parents and students tired and frustrated.

The summer scramble

July 14, 2005|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

For Alea McCullough, attending summer school will be an ordeal that requires her to rise at 5:45 a.m. and spend three hours on transit buses between home and school.

The 16-year-old is one of many Baltimore high school students traveling across the city to make up classes they failed during the academic year, as the city school system scrambles to accommodate hundreds more summer school students than it projected.

"A lot of people will be dropping out," said Alea, who lives in Northeast Baltimore and takes two buses to get to Patterson High in the southeast part of the city. It is costing $300 to make up Algebra 2 and Biology 1 and $2.20 a day in bus fare. "If I didn't have any money, then I wouldn't go and I would fail."

The city school system expected 3,000 students for classes that began Monday at Patterson, Forest Park and Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical high schools, said school system spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt. A total of 3,600 have shown up, and registration has been extended through Friday.

Students can take up to two classes, which cost $150 each. The biggest demand is for English 1 and Algebra 1.

With Forest Park and Mergenthaler packed, the school system is sending the latest arrivals to Patterson - 11 miles from Forest Park and five miles from Mergenthaler - leaving students and parents tired and frustrated.

Patterson can hold up to 200 students beyond the 800 it has, Pyatt said. Once those seats are full, students who need to make up credits will have to attend night school in the fall.

"A lot of parents are getting the runaround," said Brenda Arnold, who registered her two daughters at Patterson yesterday. They normally attend Frederick Douglass High, on the other side of the city.

Pyatt said that coping with high summer school turnout is routine.

"It's not at all unusual to spend the first couple of days of the summer session making adjustments and spending time redistricting staff and students," she said. "I don't consider this to be any different than the first day of school. We spend the first few days of the regular school year registering students and placing students in classes."

Pyatt said the school district's attendance projections were based on the number of students at risk for failing a class when third-quarter report cards were distributed in the spring. She said students and parents were notified at that time that they should register for summer school.

"You obviously have a number of students who registered late," she said.

She said the school system has not experienced a similar problem with its elementary summer programs, which are designed for enrichment rather than remediation.

The school district has distributed reduced-fare bus cards to its high school students, cutting the cost of a one-way trip from $1.90 to $1.10, Pyatt said. Over the past few days, the system has hired 14 extra teachers from a waiting list to teach summer school. Pyatt said class sizes generally have not increased beyond the average of 35 that was projected.

Eugene Chong-Qui, who is teaching Algebra 1 at Forest Park, said that projected or not, classes are too large.

"These students need the most help," he said. "It's hard to give individual attention to students when you have 30 kids."

There are other problems. Although students' tuition money is supposed to cover the cost of teacher salaries and supplies, Forest Park does not have even the most basic materials, said Chong-Qui, who has used his own money to copy worksheets for his students.

"There aren't things like paper in the building," he said.

Alea said she saw many people leave the registration lines when they learned they could not pay tuition in cash.

She and her foster sister, 14-year-old Tarnika Jenkins, arrived Monday at what they thought were their respective summer schools - Forest Park for Alea and Mergenthaler for Tarnika - to learn that they were not registered there. It took until yesterday to end the confusion. They are scheduled to start school today.

It will be a long summer, Alea said, but she plans to stick it out.

"I'd rather go and get it over with than be in the same grade for a whole 'nother year," she said.

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