Superintendent Mike Grego announced an ambitious plan in February 2013: He would push about 12,000 of Pinellas County's struggling students to attend a sweeping new summer program.
The timing, with only a few months until school ended, was tough. Principals scrambled to prepare schools, persuade students to attend and hire teachers. District officials rushed to buy supplies. Grego said he'd celebrate if even 1,000 students signed up. Instead, about 6,600 students enrolled in the six-week summer session, more than half the goal.
If that was good, this year is better.
District officials have registered more than 11,000 students in elementary, middle and high school — about 11 percent of the entire school system — for the second year of Summer Bridge. The program starts at schools next Tuesday, and ends July 24.
"I was ecstatic with it," Grego said of the latest enrollment counts, from June 3. Registration is ongoing.
The purpose of Summer Bridge is to keep students from losing academic ground during the summer months. That problem is particularly acute among low-income students. Students who attend Summer Bridge will get an extra dose of reading, math and science, with an emphasis on hands-on activities and project-based learning.
If the program is successful, district officials say, students might even have fun.
One new component of Summer Bridge is an algebra boot camp for rising ninth-graders who are struggling in math. That's in addition to the summer classes for rising 10th-graders who already failed the state's Algebra I exam, which is required for graduation from high school.
The summer session cost the district about $3.1 million last year. Much of that was for instructional materials and supplies, which will be reused this year, Grego said. He estimates this year's cost to be $2.4 million, though it could go down if not all of the registered students show up.
Grego credited the dramatic upswing in enrollment to word-of-mouth and efforts by district staff and principals.
"Parents even last year said, 'Are you going to do it next year?' " he said.
The highest enrollment numbers are in the lowest grades. First-graders signed up in the largest numbers, with 1,901 enrolled, followed by 1,829 kindergartners and 1,714 third-graders, according to district records. Most third-graders who enrolled are trying to pass the FCAT to avoid being held back a year.
Many students will attend their regular school for Summer Bridge, though not every school is open for summer, and parents were allowed to enroll their students in whatever site was most convenient. Most families will have to provide their own transportation.
Enrollment was high at some of the county's struggling schools. Fairmount Park Elementary, for instance, had more than 300 students enrolled as of June 3, while Campbell Park Elementary had 239 and Belleair Elementary had 257.
Class sizes are expected to be low, with 13 to 15 students in each.
Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @fitz_ly on Twitter.