Summer school was once a place for struggling students to receive extra help to ensure they were prepared for the coming school year. While summer schools around the nation still exist to help students who need additional practice, there is a new trend for summer school education. In addition to the traditional ‘additional learning’ model, many schools around the country are experimenting with the notion of Summer School as An accelerated learning model in which students can attend to boost ahead in skills acquisition.
Desert Vista’s summer academies, for both arts and academic courses, gives incoming students from fourth grade and up the chance to be introduced to campus programs within fine arts, engineering, English, math, and speech and debate. They can also earn credits for math and English.
“It’s been this way for the past two years, but we’ve recently tried to make it a more cohesive program,” said coordinator Sarah Tolar.
Desert Vista is currently the only school within the Tempe Union High School District with a set of separate summer academies, Tolar said. This summer, the program is serving more than 800 students representing about 50 schools both in and out of Ahwatukee.
For six weeks, the students go through an accelerated program of coursework. Teacher and administrator of the math academy, Jeff Baluch, said seeing younger students’ eagerness to learn is “very exciting.”
“Every student wants to be there,” he said. “When you have all of the students eager and ready to learn, it makes for such a wonderful experience in the classroom.”
The math academy has been a staple at the school for the past 14 years, but now tied in with more course options for students to take along with math, Baluch said the kids hit the summer hard.
“They are here because they know what the opportunities are and they are looking not only into the next grade level, but also college,” he said. “And most realize what a huge advantage that is.”
On Desert Vista’s campus, elementary and middle school students roam the halls between their summer courses, most spending a full day at the school.
Kyrene Middle School student Zain Sidhwa said he likes the social aspect as well as the academic advantage of summer academy.
“I was new to KMS and now I’ve made all these friends at summer academy,” said Sidhwa, 13, who could be on track to taking honors geometry next year.
In the speech and debate section, a group of about 50 students competed in a mock tournament last week, where they recited speeches similar to monologues or short scenarios.
Director of speech and debate for the summer academy, Samuel Abney, said the goal of the program is to give the students something fun and productive to do while on break, but also teaching them valuable skills.
“We pride ourselves in being not your average summer school program,” he said. “And now it’s starting to become more of the mainstream idea and not just the stigma of taking summer school.”