Summer school booming as kids face growing pressures
A growing number of students are trading lazy summer days for teachers and textbooks, with summer school programs booming in both the public and separate school boards.
As today ’s junior and senior high students face more complexities — from busier extracurricular schedules to increasingly challenging post-secondary requirements — more are exploring the widening range of summer school choices.
“It can be about upgrading or adjusting course loads, continuous learning if you don’t want to forget something you’ve just learned, or it can even be English language acquisition (for new Canadians),” said Chris Meadon, director of learning with the Calgary Board of Education.
“Our students are amazing but they live in a world where things are moving very quickly. And when you are constantly facing the question, ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’ and you’re only 15, that can have a lot of anxiety attached to it.
“So if you’ve got a lot of choices, that can really help.”
This summer, more than 9,000 students participated in summer school programs at the CBE, from online learning to traditional classrooms, a huge jump from the 3,400 that participated in 2003, when the CBE first started collecting summer program data.
CBE summer programs were initially only offered through Chinook Learning, formerly run out of the old Viscount Bennett high school site in the community of Killarney.
But, now, summer programming has expanded to several high school sites, including Sir Winston Churchill, Forest Lawn, Lester B. Pearson and John Diefenbaker.
Other summer choices have also become year-round, alternative learning programs, such as Discovering Choices, which offers outreach education for vulnerable teens at unique locations including Marlborough Mall.
Work experience programs have also expanded, offering high school credit through internships that build resumes and life skills.
The Calgary Catholic School District has seen a similar uptick in summer programs, with more than 5,400 students participating in 2018 summer programs, compared with 2,200 in 2003.
Steve Petingola, principal at St. Anne Academic Centre, which coordinates summer programming through six Catholic high schools, said more students than ever are doing what they can to earn the high grades needed for post-secondary programs.
“Summer school can give you that competitive advantage,” he said, adding that many universities now demand grades in the high 80s to low 90s in core courses.
“The kids in our programs are already good students. But they’re just hoping to beat out their competition for post-secondary programs.”
Both the public and Catholic systems have also recently introduced Math 15 for summer, geared toward students who’ve completed Grade 9 and want to prepare for Math 10-1, the top level math stream.
But parents say increasing challenges around the math curriculum and the way teachers deliver it are also attracting more students to this new four-week course.
Ashley Jensen says her daughter struggled with Grade 9 math, although it was difficult to gauge because of vague report cards, which only grade students on a five-point scale instead of a percentage out of 100.
“It was hard to know whether there really was a problem. Until the teacher suggested she register in Math 10-2, and that’s when we realized that’s just not good enough,” she said.
Not completing the dash-one math stream would mean closing doors on many university programs, Jensen said. So she enrolled her daughter in Math 15 over the summer.
And while her daughter initially protested, she found it valuable.
“It’s a great course, because there is repetition,” Jensen said. “There is homework every day and quizzes every day, so you know exactly how you’re doing and what you need to work on.”
Now, after a few weeks into Math 10-1 as part of her regular high school program, Ashley says her daughter is doing well and feeling confident.
Cherelle Payne said her son also benefited from the same Math 15 summer program after feeling frustrated with junior high math.
“Math is such a big concern right now, across Alberta. It’s the discovery learning, which means kids can sit in groups and discuss how to approach one problem for the entire class,” she said.
“There isn’t enough repetition in the classroom. But the summer class offered that, and focused more on core concepts.”
Payne says today’s students can benefit from more choices in the summer, including getting more practice in a subject, getting ahead or ensuring they have a lighter load in the regular school year.
Ashley Jensen, left, discusses math with daughter Bradley in their northwest home in Calgary on Friday. The teen benefited after a teacher recommended she attend a summer school math program to better prepare her for Grade 10 math courses. Almost 15,000 students took advantage of summer school programs through two school boards this year.