Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Students Learn a Lot at Free Summer Academies; Sessions Focus on Reading, Math

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Students Learn a Lot at Free Summer Academies; Sessions Focus on Reading, Math

Article excerpt

Byline: TOPHER SANDERS

Ariella Williams expects to have a leg up on her classmates next month when she enters the sixth-grade at Lake Shore Middle School.

Ariella was one of about 6,300 Duval County Public Schools students who took advantage of free summer school sessions focused on math and reading.

"It's better than regular school because the teachers are more helpful and they're getting us ready for another grade," said Ariella, between class sessions Thursday at Matthew Gilbert Middle School.

The 2009 Superintendent's Reading and Math Academies are housed at 11 schools (five elementary, five high schools and one middle school) and are being funded by $1.6 million in federal stimulus money.

"It's more than a compliance type summer school," said Kathryn LeRoy, chief academic officer for Duval schools. "It's more about ramping kids up for the upcoming year."

LeRoy said extending the academic year for students was exactly how U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wanted districts to use education stimulus funds. The four-week program concludes Friday.

The academic sessions are guided by proven teachers, whose selection for the program was based on whether their students during the regular school year showed academic gains.

LeRoy said the initiative is not focused on the students' Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test performance.

"It's really about getting kids ready for the upcoming year," she said. "Now will it support FCAT? Absolutely it will, but it will also" fill any gaps students have in their math and reading understanding.

Maika Williams, a James Weldon Johnson language arts teacher who's working at Matthew Gilbert this summer, said her summer students are making progress.

"They're writing in complete sentences," she said, "they're a little bit more confident and they'll tell you that they have increased their vocabulary."

Roxie Mims, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at Matthew Gilbert, said the program has an opportunity to better prepare her 10-year-old son Terry Mims for FCAT.

"When I heard about the program and that it was going to focus on reading and math, which are FCAT subjects, I felt that it was important for him to be here," she said. …

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