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When Summer School is the Right Choice for You

Authored By: 
Kara Krauze, Contributing Writer

Here we are, summer around the corner, the sidewalks soon heating up, and dreams of beach vacations approaching.  But wait.  Maybe you’re just realizing your son has fallen behind in that geometry class.  Maybe your daughter needs better language prep in Spanish or Latin.  Perhaps English is a second language and your child will be more comfortable with classes next term by continuing English studies during the summer.  Or maybe your child wants to go deeper in a topic of interest.

Learning doesn’t stop just because the beaches open.  Increasingly, experts are telling us that it shouldn’t.

There tend to be three reasons students attend summer school:

  1. They couldn’t pass or complete a course, whether due to difficulty with the subject, personal matters or illness.
  2. They got through a course, but want to strengthen their skills and knowledge base for the coming year.  Many subjects are cumulative.  One awkward semester can lead to another.  But if students can hit restart—reviewing and enhancing comprehension in summer school—they will be ready to tackle the next level with greater confidence when classes resume in the fall.  They may even want to enrich their understanding of a topic, or branch out in a new direction.
  3. They want to accelerate their work in a subject, jumping more quickly and with greater ease to the next level or preparing to graduate early.

Whether a student’s needs are remedial, preparatory or for acceleration, summer school is becoming an option that families—and even students themselves—can embrace.  With more flexible choices, and experienced teachers and administrators who work closely with parents and students to meet their needs, summer school doesn’t have to keep families away from that long-planned vacation.

“Call me and I’ll put together a class,” George Higgins has told parents as Headmaster at The Beekman School, where summer sessions are a perennial.

Beekman creates customized programs throughout the year and is uniquely positioned to address summer school needs.  Higgins and Maren Holmen, Academic Liaison and Head of The Tutoring School, work with the individualized circumstances of students and their parents, when it comes to course content, subject matter and family schedules.  They know what a valuable role summer school can play in a student’s academic readiness and confidence.

Learning can deteriorate during the summer, as both The National Summer Learning Association, and Harris Cooper, PhD, an expert on the subject, have warned.  Sam Dillon reports in The New York Times that “virtually everyone involved in education agrees that American students need more instruction time.”  Suddenly the long American summer looks like an opportunity to individualize the educational program that your child needs.

Beekman’s small class sizes help instructors attend to each student’s particular strengths or weaknesses, as well as providing a supportive dynamic for the group as a whole.  The Tutoring School offers similar opportunities, while also enabling students to hand-tailor their studies and schedule, working with an experienced instructor either one-on-one or in groups of two or three students.

“With only a small group of students in class with you, it’s really intensive learning with a lot of teacher support,” Higgins confirms.  “These are seasoned Beekman teachers.  They’re all teaching their own subject areas.”  He speaks of the variety of student needs their summer sessions have served: for students in the performing arts; students who had to take time away from classes due to illness or personal matters; foreign students; and students who want to keep their minds active, some in preparation for the looming SAT dates in the fall.  As he sees it, these sessions are “complementing and adding to their summer experience.”

Beekman’s summer session runs four two-hour periods Monday through Thursday, with most students focused on one or two subjects.  This still allows students and their families the chance for long summer weekends.  And yet by working intensively in those two-hour blocks directly with a teacher, a student can make up an entire year’s course that they’ve failed; or they can move ahead.  Auditing offers another option, for students who don’t need the credit hours but want to be on firmer footing when they return to class in the fall.

“It can change their whole demeanor when they go back to school in September,” Higgins explains.  The expression knowledge is power comes to mind; in this case, self-empowerment.  A student who has been struggling or retreated from participation can blossom and gain confidence.

Holmen gives a different example, in which a student’s earlier coursework choices end up having unforeseen consequences: “If you start taking Algebra I in 9th grade, you’re not ready for Calculus your senior year.”  By proactively taking Pre-Calculus during the summer, she explains, “we can prepare them in six weeks for what they were a year off in doing.”

Students don’t always fare as well in larger, more standardized summer school settings.  Instructors at The Beekman School and The Tutoring School continuously check in with students to quickly assess when an individual needs more nuanced support or a change in approach.  “We’re all in the trenches together trying to get through all this, which can build a sense of camaraderie,” Holmen says.  At the same time, if a student can’t make it to the school’s venerable townhouse location on East 50th Street, Holmen and her network of subject specialists try to work with the family to make home visits possible, citing examples as far afield as Long Island and Westchester.

Holmen stresses that the mission of The Tutoring School and Beekman—which is to work with each student to fulfill their educational goals and needs—doesn’t change according to the time of year.  “We help students on a schedule, a timetable and a pace that is appropriate to that particular student, whether that happens in January or that happens in July.”

So don’t go canceling that vacation yet.  Year-round learning could be more flexible and personalized than you thought.  Beach and books, here we come.