James isn't the only one who went to summer school this year. Ryan took a three week Robot class that was offered through his middle school. Last week a staff writer from the Aurora Sentinel visited the robot lab and wrote this article.
FOR SOME STUDENTS, LAZY DAYS OF SUMMER AREN’T SO LAZY
Coursework at Institute of Science and Technology aims to push students further ahead in studies
by ADAM GOLDSTEIN Staff Writer
Aurora The students in this Algebra 2 course don't have to worry about impressing upperclassmen or dealing with the pressure of high school cliques.
In this classroom at the Institute of Science and Technology, eighth graders work at tables with eleventh graders. About 25 students ranging in age from 13 years old to 17 years old share a common degree of concentration as they copy the detailed charts and graphs written on the whiteboard. Here, the social pecking order of a typical high school is absent and the students seem focused on the task at hand: stuffing the workload of a full semester into a shortened time frame of six weeks.
“Just to do it in six weeks is pretty impressive. We’re pushing ourselves to be better students,” said Elliot Park, a 13-year-old Prairie Middle School student who signed up to spend a good chunk of his summer vacation in a math class. Park stood with five other students from the Algebra 2 class at the IST, peers he’ll likely see again in a high-school level pre-calculus class in the fall. “A lot of kids are making new friends, and we’ve got each other’s phone numbers … Nothing’s wrong, we always have fun with each other. With the math, it’s not really hard.
“Pre-calculus is going to be fun. It’s going to be easy,” he added.
At its core, the initiative goes deeper than offering students an alternative for the summer months, administrators say. It’s all about tackling the achievement gap between black students and their white and Asian peers, a phenomenon that’s pointed in school districts across Colorado.
“This program is designed to help kids break out of the track they’re in, especially if they’re in a low track,” said Kandy Cassaday, principal of Prairie Middle School. “It’s all about acceleration rather than remediation. A lot of times, summer schools are just a place to promote remedial programming. Our kids can take six weeks of sixth grade math in the summer — all day, 172 hours — they’re going to get out of sixth grade math and be able to start in pre-algebra.”
According to Cassaday, that push paid off in the first year of the summer school program. Approximately 87 percent of the students who participated in the program last year passed their final exams and moved forward to the next class. Of those, about 85 percent earned Bs or higher at the end of their first semester.
Shaina Wilson, an Overland math teacher who’s heading the summer’s Algebra 2 class, said the difference in her students’ attitude is clear in the high test scores from the first two weeks of class.
“These kids are so motivated and they have brilliant questions,” Wilson said. “An 8 out of 10 is not enough. They’re overachievers.”
The program may still be relatively young, but it’s already affected Overland High School’s offerings for its math students. With younger students entering courses at a higher level, the rolls of AP students has increased, administrators say.
“We’ve seen an increase in kids who take geometry in ninth grade and Algebra 2 in tenth grade,” said Overland High School Principal Leon Lundie, adding that the track often ends with high school math students earning college-level credits. “This has really let us redo our schedule. Having that amount of kids come in with geometry has had an impact.”
Lundie and Cassaday spoke in one of the IST’s robotics classrooms, as a group of middle and high school students controlled wheeled machines through their cell phones. Upstairs, another class reconstructed a fictional crime scene using forensic evidence and high-tech cues. There’s a buzz of activity across the building’s 58,000 square feet, an energy that’s eased the burden of heading to school in the first weeks of summer vacation for these students.
“We’ve taken two tests in the first two weeks,” said Janelle Hagen, a 12-year-old who’s on track to take Algebra 2 as an eighth grader. “Most of the summer, I do nothing. I’ve been able to meet new people.”
|Aman Tewolde (left), 13, Ryan Buxton (center), 13, and Aleks Nagy (right), 11, play with robots the three students designed and built Monday morning, June 18 at the Institute of Science and Technology (IST) building on East Jewell Avenue in Aurora. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)|