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‘The most rewarding part? Watching those seniors walk across the stage at graduation’

July 8, 2019

By KIRSTIN TAYLOR
Rutherford County Schools

Every summer, Rutherford County Schools hosts its summer school program for grades 9-12 at one of the district high schools. This year, Riverdale High School is housing the operation.

In the first session that started in early June, the program served 284 students with 22 staff members. The current session serves 278 students and boasts 21 staff members including 14 certified teachers, two assistant principals, two guidance counselors and a secretary. There are an additional 150-155 students enrolled in the online program.

“Summer school has a two-fold purpose,” explained administrator Fred Campbell, who has been working with the program for six years. “One, students can come in and make up credits that weren’t earned during the regular school year. Two, they can come take classes to graduate early.”

Campbell endorses the program as a valuable asset to the community as a whole.

 “We’re going to graduate students on time or early which, overall, helps the county’s graduation rate. So, students can get out and go on to college, pursue post-secondary opportunities or enter the workforce or move on to the military — whatever fits their needs. The program, I believe, is an awesome program for the county, for parents, for all stakeholders in the system.”

The program has seen a few of changes over the past several years.

Craig Reavis, who has been teaching math for nine summers at sites all over the county, says that he has actually seen numbers decrease over his time with the program due to the grade recovery initiatives and online program.

“There used to be two sites for the summer school program. Now, there just aren’t as many students.”

This decrease in enrollment, however, actually illustrates a positive change.

“Years ago, you would have 400-500 students enrolled in traditional summer school,” said Campbell. “When the online platform was introduced, it significantly impacted traditional summer school, but it also opened opportunities for students to be able to work on their own. So, those students that want to work and go to school at the same time have access to do that.”

Technology has affected the summer school experience in more ways than one. Reavis shared that currently, the majority of his students’ work is done on the computer. “When we first started, that wasn’t even an option,” he added.

These changes have yielded positive results for the program but facilitating the summer school program is still not without its difficulties.

Reavis conveyed that, although it doesn’t affect him too much, the schedule of teaching year-round can present a great challenge.

“You know, we don’t get that two months away from everything,” he said.

Shelley De La Cruz, an English III teacher who has been with the program for seven years, agreed and added that timing can be an issue for the students’ morale and focus as well.

“Sometimes (the students) feel like they’re sort of missing out,” she articulated. “We, as summer school teachers, have to provide not only academic, but also social motivation.”

Campbell cites summer school’s historically negative stigma as another of the program’s challenges.

“You get some students who look at it as a bad thing when, in actuality, it’s a program that’s in place to help them improve.”

De La Cruz also recognizes that potentially negative perception but sees that stigma fading. She expressed that students who take advantage of the summer school option are less likely to face the assumption that they simply failed to meet the regular school year’s expectations than in the past.

“That’s just not the truth,” she asserted. “It just is what it is. You’ve just got to respect the hustle!”

Of the students she says, “You’ve got to put one foot in front of the other and do whatever you need to do in order to get that diploma. I feel like that’s what summer school provides.”

Despite its challenges, summer school affords valuable opportunities to the county’s students in addition to rewarding experiences for the staff involved.

“Definitely, the connection with the students is the most rewarding,” De La Cruz insisted. “You’re able to see students that really struggle during the school year succeed in a smaller classroom setting.”

“The most rewarding part? Watching those seniors walk across the stage at graduation,” said Campbell. He added emphatically, “Seeing those parents and the community come together for summer school graduation, to know that their child finally made it, that is the most rewarding experience you could ever have as an educator.”