Most area high school students taking remedial classes this summer are also paying for them.
A new law that allows school districts to bill their own students for summer school, and the growth of online summer school programs, has left it up to families to decide whether they will pay to make up the credits the student lost by failing a class, or repeat the entire course the next school year.
Locally, only Atlantic City and Millville are offering free make-up summer school at their high schools. Greater Egg Harbor Regional and Cape May Technical High School charge for their program. Mainland Regional, Egg Harbor Township, Vineland and Ocean City have no on-site program but are accepting online credits.
“It’s the only way to go for us,” said Ocean City guidance director Erik Ortolf. “The students want to get jobs, and are comfortable working online.”
Some districts will subsidize the cost for low-income students to take a fee-based course, but most families are paying the cost, typically between $280 and $325 per course.
Greater Egg Harbor Regional had eliminated summer school because of the cost, but it was restored now that the district can charge. District supervisor Margaret Doran said they kept the $280 cost competitive, offered financial assistance to low-income students, and opened the program to students from other towns. About 100 students applied, but the district needed at least 12 students in each course to break even financially and only got enough to fill algebra and geometry classes for 35 students, including two members of the class of 2012 who must pass their course to graduate.
“These kids are very motivated,” Doran said. “They want to pass.”
Lauren Kromenacker, 15, of Galloway Township is taking algebra at Absegami. She said she fell behind during the school year, got overwhelmed, and is now grateful she can make up the work during the summer.
“I’m so glad I don’t have to repeat it next year,” she said.
The Cape May Technical High School in Cape May Court House offers the only on-site summer school in the county. Students pay $325 per course. But enrollment this year dropped from an average of 110 in previous years to 69 this summer, and summer school supervisor Susan Jurusz said they are reviewing if online courses are the reason and how that should adapt their program in the future.
Middle Township High School principal Richard Falletta said students had the option of taking one remedial course at Cape Tech or two courses through the Educere online program. He said about 25 students are taking online courses.
Jurusz said six students from Middle Township are taking courses at Cape Tech. She said while online is more convenient, students must be disciplined to do the work themselves, or they won’t be successful. She said staff at Cape Tech are discussing a possible hybrid course next year that students could do online with support, then attend class at Cape Tech maybe once or twice a week.
“We support the use of technology and we want students to be comfortable learning online,” she said. “You have to stay up with the times. But we also want to give students options.”
Online programs first became popular several years ago as budget-strapped school districts began eliminating summer school and instead telling students they could get credit for passing an approved online program.
Maria Penzimer, principal of the New Jersey Virtual High School run by the Monmouth-Ocean Educational Services Commission said they get between 1,700 and 2,000 students in their summer credit-recovery program. She said all teachers are certified, and will contact students by phone and e-mail to help with them the courses. She said the phone calls help teachers get to know the students and reduce possible cheating. Students have a timeline to complete assignments and teachers will also host live chat rooms to discuss assignments. More than 400 public and private schools currently use their services.
Millville offered students the option of taking makeup courses free at the high school or pay for them online. Guidance supervisor David Vorndran said 142 students are taking courses, only 13 of them online.
“Online gives the students flexibility if they work,” he said. “But I think for most it is an economic decision to come to the school.”
Vorndran said the free program helps students graduate on time and the district maintain the high school graduation rate, a major factor in state monitoring and a major issue for urban schools. Atlantic City’s free summer school is for juniors and seniors only, and about 150 students are participating this year supervisor Anne Lofaro said.
The Absegami program did get a few students from other towns. Students in the algebra class said they considered going online but decided they would do better in a traditional classroom.
“It really is just easier to get up and come in the morning,” said Anjleen Kaur, 15, of Galloway Township.
“There is someone right here to help you,” Kromenacker added.
“You can interact with people here,” said Ryann Guy, 15, from Egg Harbor City. “And you can’t get distracted and start going on Facebook.”
The students said they are doing well in the class. They aren’t happy they failed, but said when they started falling behind, the work just got more and more difficult until they gave up.
“You get down on yourself and say why study if I’m already failing,” said Madisyn Kohler, 15, of Linwood, who said she moved midyear and it took her time to adjust. “But this is a lesson to pick up your slack. I was really mad about having to come to summer school, but this has definitely been worth it.”
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