I used to tell students, “Don’t plan on summer school.” I didn’t want kids to feel complacent during the year and figure, “Oh, well, I’ll just go to summer school if I don’t pass.” To create a sense of urgency, and scarcity, I’d say things like, “We might not be able to give you this class in summer school so you’d better pass now.”
Yet now, I’m reminded again of why summer school is special. For kids, they’re with their friends instead of being bored at home. Each classroom, blessedly, has a cold, blasting air conditioner.
For staff, summer school is a unique time with a small group of students.
Besides teachers from our school, we also hire teachers from other schools who bring in a fresh perspective on learning, and on our students. Kids who normally struggle academically become focused. Kids who are class clowns suddenly settle down. There are fewer kids and a lot of their friends aren’t around, so there’s not much of an audience.
I’m pretty clear that one student, Damian* orchestrated his life in order to be in summer school. Damian can be brilliant. He learns fast, and is also a talented baseball player.
However, Damian can also be temperamental and create silent stand-offs with adults, refusing to even speak to his teachers. He defies directions. He pouts or storms out of rooms.
Despite these behaviors, he excelled in geometry and history. His teachers said he showed mastery of the material and could easily pass the state exams in June.
June came and went. Damian missed both exams. He was the only student in our school who missed two exams. His family was shocked and said Damian had never told them he had exams. His aunt lamented that because she and her family often work long hours, they don’t spend as much time with Damian as they’d like.
When we asked Damian why he missed his exams, he said, “I was mad at you.” He said he was holding a grudge over a discipline issue that had happened in late May. But he had still attended school after that issue.
So nope. His story doesn’t pan out. I’m clear that Damian is in summer school by choice, albeit unconscious choice.
Damian is clearly a kid who needs a lot of attention. This past week, I met Damian’s aunt and realized we should set things up so Damian doesn’t have to give himself summer school every year in order to get attention. We devised a plan in which I, or one of my assistant principals, will call the aunt weekly with Damian present with us, and will give her an update of how he’s doing. Damian will participate. For ten minutes a week, he’ll get the focused attention of two adults. When we created the plan, Damian tried to act like it was no big deal, but I had never seen him smile more broadly.
Damian knew missing those exams would give him a ticket to summer school, a place with small classes, fewer kids, where even the principal can give each kid more attention. And most of the attention is positive.
Our students are like a garden with a wild variety of flowers and plants. Some are hardy, and do fine with less water or less sunlight. Others needs as much water and sunlight as possible, like Damian. He found a way to give it to himself. While we’ll try to give him that attention before he goes to such drastic measure to seek it, I do have to say: smart kid.
*The names and identifying features of students have been changed.