Instructor Katie Miller goes over a mathematics test with students at mason High School.
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ERIE - Tour most any school building in the middle of summer and you're likely to see darkened hallways stacked to the ceiling with desks, custodians working with floor wax, and even the occasional administrator walking about in shorts and a T-shirt.
What you wouldn't normally see, however, is something that is in abundant supply this summer at Mason Consolidated Schools: students.
More than 200 of Mason's 1,500 students are spending seven weeks in classrooms in the elementary and high school, working in small groups on the academic areas where they need the most individual help.
"What we're doing is basically going back and filling in the gaps," in grade-level skills that students need, Superintendent Marlene Mills explained.
Unlike more traditional summer school programs that are largely aimed at students in danger of failing, Mason officials have geared this year's effort as a way to improve its overall academic standing by making sure students have the skills and knowledge they need at their specific grade level.
To pay for the unprecedented program, the district is using $90,000 in state grants that are targeted specifically to assist at-risk students to help them improve.
"In previous years, if we provided busing, we might have 25 kids [district wide] in summer school. If we didn't provide transportation, it was more like six kids," Mrs. Mills said.
"This year, we identified all the students K-12 that we thought would benefit from such an intense program - not just the ones in danger of being retained - and sent letters home," the superintendent said. "Then we followed up with personal phone calls, either from a teacher or administrator, to tell parents how important we felt this was. And parents really responded."
For their part, the students attend classes for seven weeks each weekday between 8 a.m. and noon. But they're not herded into traditional classes of 30 kids to study broad topics like math. Instead, they're split up into small groups of six to 15 to get individualized learning on topics that might not have registered through the school year like fractions, reading comprehension, and writing.
"We have what amounts to an [individualized education plan] on every student," Mrs. Mills said. "Each student is getting intensive instruction in studying skills and writing, and also working on those areas where they need individualized help."
The district hired 15 teachers for the session and assigned special education instructors to oversee the classes, helping teachers gather the materials that they need and helping them assess each student.
Teacher Jan Grodi spent 30 years as a special education teacher at Mason before retiring at the end of the last school year. She returned last month to teach three classes of math and reading skills to "general education" students who need the extra help to catch up.
"The kids seem to be enjoying it," the longtime educator said. "We're assessing them daily, so they can see their improvement. They know what level they're on and where they need to be, and they can see the progress that they're making."
The summer school has been in session less than a month, and Mrs. Grodi said the results have been astonishing.
"I see a lot of growth already in a short amount of time," she said.