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Summer School or Summer Camp?

Summer school offers benefits for students who need to catch up or want to get ahead. But camp has its place, too.

So many people have asked me if my son is going to summer school that I’m starting to feel guilty that he’s not. I even feel I need to explain why, “Well, he would be going to summer school but he is a counselor at sleep-away camp and I feel that is a valuable learning experience...blah, blah, blah.” When did summer school go from being something kids only did if they were flunking out to a status thing? What would motivate high performing kids to ditch the beach and schlep to class at 7:30 a.m.?

It’s tough to get into top schools. You can’t just be a really good student with high SAT or ACT scores anymore. The competition is fierce and attending summer school is one strategy kids use to get an edge. Top schools want more world language credits and lots of AP courses, especially in core classes. It is difficult to do that and fit in other required classes like health and gym, and electives as well. So kids take those classes in the summer to clear their schedule for the “serious” classes during the school year. Another strategy is taking required classes, like algebra and geometry, in the summer in order to take higher level classes, like calculus and physics, during the school year. 

Many kids do go to summer school for less big picture reasons, including poor grades. This is a lifesaver for many students because a certain number of core classes are required to graduate. If graduation arrives before the credits are met, then they don’t graduate and need to continue as a high school student until they do. This doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen and it’s not a happy place. One of my students had to attend the fall semester of her high school after her senior year to meet her requirements for graduation. The alternative is doubling up on classes during the school year instead of taking an elective, which is a terrible plan. If a kid didn’t pass biology the first time, he or she for sure won’t pass it the next year while taking chemistry as well. Summer school is a safely net for these kids. It allows them to make up a class without the added stress of taking a full schedule and be on even footing the following school year.

Taking summer classes also allows kids to concentrate on one subject, resulting in a less stressful schedule the following school year. The environment in summer school is often more laid-back with smaller class sizes and more teacher support. If math isn’t your thing, taking it in isolation from other classes over the summer is a great alternative. This has become a very popular trend over recent years. When I asked some of my students why they are taking summer classes several of them told me they figure the classes will be easier because most of the kids are taking them because they are filled with students who get bad grades. I didn’t mention the future Ivy Leaguers trying to beat the competition; they can find that out for themselves.

Now that I have researched all of the reasons kids go to summer school, I feel like I should go get my kid at overnight camp and immediately enroll him in chemistry, even though I won’t. But you can bet my next article will be on the virtues and value of summer camp.

marilyn July 01, 2012 at 12:31 PM
There is no reason to go somewhere or pay someone to do these sorts of things. You can do this all as a family. I did summer school and ended up being unbelievably bored in school even in the advanced classes. I'm sure it's 'something to do' but I think that sort of pressure on kids that are struggling in school (for whatever reason--sometimes it's bad teachers or bad classes) is more of a punishment than anything else. Spend a half hour or so as a family on doing some review, add a few new things, and be done with it. Challenging is fine, but when it turns into pressure and 'you're not good enough' that's not good.

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