More schools offer summer programs to keep kids busy
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 5, 2005
Anne Ryman
Five days a week, 6-year-old Carlee Coulehan shows up for summer school at Arcadia Neighborhood Learning Center in Scottsdale.

She learns to cook, makes arts and crafts, and works on the computer.

Working parents, hot summers and more pressure for schools to boost their test scores have led more elementary schools to offer summer school for children like Carlee.

The programs range from tuition-based to free, federally funded programs. The goal is to mix learning with fun.

For more than a decade, summer school has increased around the country with about 10 percent of students taking part, according to a 2002 study by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory in Portland, Ore.

Arizona does not track the numbers of elementary students enrolled in summer school statewide. But summer school directors say their elementary programs are growing in popularity.

"Every year we seem to add more classes, and the classes fill incredibly quickly," said Gayle Smith, who coordinates Tempe Elementary School District's summer program.

Costs range from free to a couple of hundred dollars. Many of the free programs have limited space, and students must get a referral from their teachers.

The trend toward more elementary summer programs is being fueled on several fronts:

More single-parent and two-parent working families want activities to keep their kids busy.

Arizona's hot summers make it hard to spend a lot of time outdoors during the day, so even stay-at-home parents need ways to occupy the kids.

School officials, under pressure from the federal government to show academic gains, are happy to provide summer academic programs for kids, provided parents or the federal government pick up the tab. School officials hope the extra summer help will mean higher achievement scores on the AIMS state-mandated test.

June is the most popular month for summer school, although some schools run programs into July or offer "jump-start" academic programs before school starts.

This year for the first time, the Paradise Valley Unified School District is piloting a summer school in July at Copper Canyon Elementary. In past years, elementary programs have run only through June, said Jane Tate, assistant director of Community Education. More than 1,000 kids have enrolled in elementary summer school in the Paradise Valley district.

Summer school gives kids a chance to try new activities like karate or ceramics, said Paul McElligott, assistant summer school superintendent for the Fountain Hills Unified School District. He expects 300 to 400 kids to enroll this summer.

Academics are a big focus. One popular session in the Scottsdale Unified School District helps incoming kindergartners get ready for school. The district launched its own summer school program a few years ago.

"It's really fulfilling a need," said Marilyn Berry, who oversees summer school at the Arcadia Neighborhood Learning Center. "They can only swim and watch videos so many hours."

Tuition-based summer school is most common in schools where parents have higher incomes. But in lower-income areas, summer school also is booming thanks to federal grants.

The Washington Elementary School District in Phoenix is one that offers both tuition and federally funded free programs this summer.

Federal grants called 21st Century Community Learning Centers have provided a big boost to summer school in recent years. Palomino II Elementary School in northeast Phoenix and 91 other Arizona schools qualify for the funding, which started as part of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The grants help students learn new skills outside the school day. Most schools that receive the grants provide some sort of summer program along with services during the school year. The goal is to boost achievement in math and reading.

Palomino offered reading and sports programs this summer thanks to a 21st Century grant.

Principal Manuel Ramirez said it was the largest summer program in the school's history. On any given day, about 220 kids were on the campus near 32nd Street and Greenway Road.

Most of the kids speak Spanish and are learning English.

For three weeks in June, Palomino students spent an hour reading and writing each morning, then they got a break for snacks before they made arts and crafts for the second hour.

As fifth-grader Irvin Cortes, 10, munched on Cheetos during a recent day at the school, he listed his three favorite things about summer school: reading, art and the snacks, he said with a smile.

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8072.