Learning doesn’t take a break for summer

Back row from left, Dustin Milan, Trevor Achilles, Alex Fincham, Josh Jeffries, Brandon Walker, Brett Lawson, Colin DeLathouder, and teachers Susan Fox and Dave Naser; seated, left to right, Brittany Cooke, Susana Lanier and Caren Brown.

School is not out for the summer at Rappahannock County High School. In fact, the five-week summer session is still going on. It began on June 28 and continues until July 29.

Summer school students meet Monday through Thursday from 8:30 to 11:30 and get their lessons through EdOptions, an online service.

This year’s enrollment of 14 students includes 10 from the county and four who pay tuition. There is no “typical” reason for students to take summer courses.

“It was designed as a recovery summer school for students who failed the SOL or failed a class. This program can keep them on track for graduation,” said Susan Fox, RCHS alternative education teacher. “But some students simply take advantage of the opportunity to improve a grade or enrich their transcripts. There are various reasons for attending.”

The EdOptions program offers a full schedule of classes, and this year’s summer students are studying subjects such as earth science, chemistry, biology, geometry, algebra, U.S. history, English, British literature, and American Indian studies.

This is the high school’s sixth year using the year-round electronic service. Thanks to former principal, Roger Mello, who researched the idea and helped get initial funding, the benefits of this style of learning are many. For RCHS, EdOptions reduced the number of instructors needed for summer school and it increased SOL pass rates. The service allows 25 students at a time to work, but each student may take more than one class. Currently, there is one student taking two classes.

“We like working at our own pace,” Josh Jeffries, a summer school student, said. “You can also work online at home to finish things that you may not get done at school.”

Of course, the students also like the shorter school days. But Dustin Milan, who is taking a British literature course, did admit: “In all honesty, it’s more fun than anything I’d be doing at home.” He is preparing to write a five-paragraph analytical essay about Shakespeare’s Macbeth. One of his summer school teachers will grade the essay and submit the score online.

In addition to writing, the EdOptions courses often require students to read online texts, view video segments and connect with selected Internet links. Students must prove their understanding by answering multiple choice questions that are graded online. Those scores are combined with the scores from written work to give an overall grade.

The RCHS summer teachers, Dave Naser and Fox, have been working as a team for several years. Naser, who teaches science during the regular school year, said, “In many ways, this is like the one-room schoolhouse. Everyone is working on their own subject. You have to move around from student to student to ensure understanding and to ensure they remain on task. When you get 15 to 25 students each doing individual subjects, it’s challenging to keep up with them.”

Beyond the classroom management differences, EdOptions presents other changes. “It is much more efficient than large classroom instruction,” Naser said.. “You are able to meet the individual needs of the kids. For example, with math, I do enjoy actually teaching them the concepts. There is need for some hands-on instruction in some subjects. It’s made me a better teacher because over the years I’ve been exposed to all these different curricula.”

Fox sees other advantages. “There are social benefits for the students, too. This isn’t the normal social dynamic of regular school. There aren’t as many distractions. They can focus and do their work. It gives them another venue to be successful academically.”

Summer school is giving students the advantage of many unique resources, not the least of which are the two veteran summer school teachers who have a combined teaching experience of 43 years. It appears that the online programs aren’t the only assets inside the summer school classroom.