SMMUSD HDQTRS — At 9 a.m. Monday the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation staff posted the registration form for its third annual Ed Ahead summer program, which gives students access to high school courses over the break between school years.
The form needs signatures from the student, parent, counselor and house principal, a hefty number of people to corral in one day.
Despite that, the foundation has already received two applications, and hundreds of phone calls and e-mails inquiring about the program since an announcement was sent out last Thursday, said Rachel Faulkner, program director at the Ed Foundation.
“I was surprised to have any [finished applications],” she said.
The program opens up eight classes at $595 a piece that last 27 days during the students’ summer break. Options include courses offered in previous years like U.S. and world history and, for the first time at Santa Monica High School, science and math.
Chemistry was offered at Malibu High School in 2011.
The classes give students the opportunity to get a jump on coursework that they would otherwise have to take during the school year, which can free up periods in the year, allow them to progress faster through their educational path and get into higher-level courses more quickly than they otherwise would.
Those options used to be available through local community colleges, but space has gotten more scarce as budget cuts slice away at state funding for traditional summer programs at both ends of the academic spectrum.
In 2010, the Ed Foundation stepped in to assist with what Sally Chou, the district’s chief academic officer, termed a pilot program to provide classes.
Course offerings are based on student and parent demand, and all classes are built with the school district team. New courses, like biology, chemistry and geometry, were specifically requested by the school district, Faulkner said.
“They deemed it important to offer these classes so that students could fulfill requirements if they wanted to take honors and (Advanced Placement) classes,” Faulkner said.
The Board of Education signed off on the program last Thursday, with only mild concern both for the program’s accessibility to low-income students and its ability to convey a year’s worth of math and science in a 27-day program.
Students enrolled in the district’s free and reduced-price lunch program pay only $100 and $250 respectively for the program, Linda Gross, executive director of the Ed Foundation, told board members Thursday.
In 2011, 20 percent of the students enrolled in the summer classes were on scholarships totaling $14,000, she said.
According to a study released by the RAND Corp. in 2011, access to summer classes is a critical tool to combat the achievement gap between low-income and wealthier students that’s often a source of debate within the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
While all students forget information learned in the previous school year over their summer break, research shows, low-income students lose substantially more ground in reading than their wealthier counterparts and the impact is cumulative over the course of their education.
That means that learning loss during the summer “substantially” increases the achievement gap in reading, the report says.
Along those lines, evidence presented in the report suggests that all types of summer learning programs can help.
“It may be that efforts to close the achievement gap during the school year alone will be unsuccessful,” the report says.
At Thursday’s meeting, board member Oscar de la Torre pushed for the Education Foundation to open the door to more low-income students, increasing the number of scholarships to 30 percent of the total population of summer students.
“Twenty percent is acceptable, but 30 percent sounds a little better,” de la Torre said.
A second concern was whether or not students would be able to fit an entire year’s worth of math or science instruction into a five-week program, even with four-and-a-half hours of class-time each day.
That’s still approximately two-thirds of the amount of time a student would normally spend in a class.
“It raises the question if it’s a wise idea or not a wise idea,” said board member Jose Escarce.
Laurel Fretz, Samohi’s principal and a former science teacher, was confident that the formula was a good one.
Students who sign up will get the unusual chance to focus all of their time and attention on one class, rather than stretching their learning between six or seven as they would in the regular school year, Fretz said.
“Those students choosing to take it have the internal buy-in to be there and do that,” she said. “It creates an urgency that should be there all year, but often is not, to fit it in, learn as much as you can and do the material.”
The class time gives students a better chance to engage with the material and have an immersive lab experience in the case of the biology or chemistry classes.
Research suggests that cramming that much material into a summer course can work, but it takes the right kind of teaching.
Marcia Linn, director of the Technology Enhanced Learning in Science Community and a professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education, studied the impact of inquiry-based instruction in comparison to general classroom education.
If the summer program mimicked what happened in the classroom during the normal school year, then it might be questionable if five more weeks of similar instruction would pack enough of a punch.
“If it’s designed instead to have a unique or valuable experience, then it could be extremely beneficial,” she said.
According to her work, science students that have access to technology that lets them manipulate models to test out their ideas and then reinforce their thoughts through writing assignments would absorb more because they were actively engaging with the material.
“It enables them to inspect their own ideas,” she said. “They can test those ideas and refine them based on information they get from their personal experiments.”
Having engaged students who really want to be there is, of course, helpful to the classroom equation, she said.
People who wish to sign up for summer classes can get the registration form at www.smmef.org.