WESLEY CHAPEL — School's out for summer, but that doesn't mean school is closed.
Tuesday found hundreds of teachers and thousands of children headed back to class all over Pasco County, looking to avoid the summer slip of skills that inevitably comes with more than two months off.
But it's a pared-down version of past years' already slim summer offerings, as the district aims to cut its extended year expenses by $200,000. The cuts would have been even more severe, assistant superintendent Sandy Ramos said, if the district hadn't already planned out most of the session before lawmakers began slashing spending in earnest.
"A year from now, you'll really see changes," Ramos said, adding that after-school programs also could be scaled back because of budget concerns.
The focus remains on students who need the most help, with the biggest piece being the third-grade reading camps for kids who scored at the lowest levels on the FCAT and could be retained.
Unlike past years, though, Pasco invited only students who made a Level 1 on the exam; in the past those who got a Level 2 also could attend.
Teachers kicked off the six-week program at Seven Oaks Elementary by reviewing comprehension strategies. Taylor Jordan had her students pore through piles of books to teach them how to pick those that are "just right."
The students would read the first few pages, and if they found on any page five words they didn't know, those were set aside until they could improve their reading skills. The rest went on their "just right" lists.
At session's end, the students will have one chance to take the Stanford 10 achievement test. If they score well enough, they can earn promotion to fourth grade.
Elementary schools also have 10-day programs for first-, second- and fourth-graders.
Middle and high schools are providing classes for 10 days, too, principally to give students a "preview" of the curriculum to come.
"This is something that we feel is necessary for them to improve on their assessment exams and to be successful in school," said Long Middle School assistant principal Michael Macchiarola.
Teachers combined math and reading skills into 30-minute lessons, and students rotated classrooms to get exposed to as many teaching styles as possible — not to mention a better understanding of the school layout, something really important for the incoming sixth-graders.
Jennifer Amsler had her groups work on integers and ways to figure out positive and negative numbers using word prompts. Diana Lister focused on basic algebra skills, such as the order to perform math functions in a equations such as 20 - 8 x 2 + 10. (Multiplication and division first, followed by addition and subtraction, moving along from left to right like reading.) The answer is 14.
Some of the students struggled. But as they moved along, more and more of them were pumped about getting answers correct and looking forward to the next problem.
"It's kind of fun," incoming sixth-grader Abdullah Syed said during snack break. "We're going to be learning a lot of stuff that we probably don't know, and meeting new teachers and meeting new friends."
"They're already helping," classmate Trent Buckley said. "It's a great school. I can tell."
Some students weren't so enthused about attending the classes, saying it's a "waste of summer." But even many of those who acknowledged not liking school so much said the session was better than the alternative.
"I like the fact that I'm not just sitting home on the couch," said eighth-grader James Halloran, who was enthusiastically raising his hand to answer several math problems in one of his classes.
Many of the high school students had an even more focused reason to attend: They wanted extra help to pass the FCAT, to earn credit for a class they failed or, if room was available, to improve their grade in a class they did poorly in.
Incoming Wiregrass Ranch High senior Kimberly Barrett was retaking Algebra 2.
"The first semester I got a D, so I'm trying to make up the first semester," she said. "There's stuff to do, but I'd rather be making up my grade so I can graduate."
Fellow incoming senior Beatriz Jovel found herself in the same boat.
"Colleges are raising the bar for people coming in," she said. "I need a higher GPA because I'm trying to go to USF."
Because they're earning credit, the high schoolers can miss just one day of class. Assistant principal Maria Swanson said she had more students request spots than she had seats available for some classes.
Teachers at all three levels said they enjoyed the opportunity that summer offers.
"This gives you the opportunity to go back and recapture some of the things that we know teachers whip right through because the expectation is that the majority of kids can do it," added Debbie Collin, another Long Middle teacher. "It's not that these kids can't do it. They just need a little bit more time."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.