DADE CITY — Dalton Brown could have been home sleeping.
But he knew he had been "too lazy, too tired all the time" in the school year. His grades suffered.
So on Monday morning, the 14-year-old found himself in front of a computer at Pasco Middle School, working to make up history, math and science courses.
"I want to go to high school," Dalton said, explaining his decision to attend summer school.
The Pasco County School District expanded its summer course offerings this year with a goal of reaching more struggling students. The initiatives included new curriculum, added course- and credit-recovery at the secondary level, and increased attention to the primary grades.
It's the district's first summer school revamp in five years.
More than 2,000 students enrolled, although attendance was low on the first day, leaving school administrators to call families later in the day to remind them to send their kids. The district is providing transportation and meals.
At the middle and high school levels, the district adopted new online materials that adhere to the state's new standards and aim to make the work harder than in past programs.
"The problem with the previous model was kids recovered so easily, they didn't take their initial courses seriously," curriculum supervisor Rayann Mitchell said. "Because the rigor is increased, hopefully the message is there. We want to make them want to learn in the initial course rather than recover."
Teachers and students alike said they like the new system.
"It's customized. Everyone is working according to the prescription that's needed for them to succeed," Pasco Middle teacher Susan McHugh said, as she helped seventh-graders who were raising their hands. "There's less downtime for them. The computer takes them where they need to go."
McHugh said she's still needed and is able to help more students than when she must develop and lead the entire lesson.
Rising seventh-grader Ashley Adams, 13, worked on her civics, which she did not pass during the year. She said she preferred the virtual course, with McHugh available for assistance.
"You can work at your own pace, and you can work at home if you want to," said Ashley, who aimed to finish the course early.
Pasco Middle assistant principal Jeff Wolff noted that the blended classroom-virtual program allows students to watch videotaped teacher lessons, take online notes and even have the computer read the text and translate it, if necessary.
With some students, that last feature helps them keep up with the content even if they can't read well, Wolff said, so they don't fall farther behind.
At the elementary schools, third-graders who did not pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test reading exam began the district's annual state-mandated reading camp aimed at improving their skills. This year, the district changed its focus from selecting appropriate text to using reading as a basis for research and writing, using the theme of marine life.
"I think it's going to be engaging for them," Pasco Elementary School teacher Jo Ann Fiscus said, watching children test to determine their reading level.
She said both skills — selecting good books and using them well — are important for the students.
Rising third-grader Christopher Manriquez, 9, was enthusiastic about the opportunities. He said he was glad to be in school and to get take-home books to read.
He said he liked "to see other kids, learn again, learn more and read more."
The interest level was high among all grades.
Rising first-graders told teacher Lori Meredith they thought it would be "awesome" to write their own books about endangered animals, based on their readings in their summer course. Rising second-graders, meanwhile, eagerly gathered around teacher Megan Huffman to practice math skills considered key to success in the third grade.
Huffman wrote "6+8" on a white board and asked the children, "Does it make 10?" She then had them explain their answers, using playing cards to help do the calculations.
One boy said he figured out the answer of 14 by counting by two's. Another said he looked at the six of diamonds, then saw the eight of hearts divided into two sets of four.
He knew the six diamonds and four hearts equaled 10, and adding the extra 4 came easily.
Attacking the facts in a fun way to make it more interesting, assistant principal Nena Green said. "We want to get the kids engaged and wanting to be here."
With six weeks of classes, that's important. The elementary programs run half days through July 24. The daylong secondary courses run in 10-day segments, with the first session scheduled to end July 1.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected]