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More than 5,500 students attended four weeks of summer school last year, but this year the budget crisis has meant that there are places for only 220 seniors who failed to graduate.

Academically, the cancellation might not matter, said Mark Sanchez, principal at Horace Mann Middle School, who called summer school “haphazard,” and also “boring, and seen as a punishment.”   More effective, he said, are pre-work apprenticeship, community service, academic enrichment, or activities at recreation centers.

This summer will test that notion. Schools across the city – including both high schools and the two middle schools in the Mission District have put together a number of enrichment programs that will last as long as summer school did last year – four weeks.  Some will also offer course credit.

Melissa Lambert, the school district’s program administrator for GEAR UP, one of those enrichment programs, agreed with Sanchez about summer school.

“As far as summer school being a rigorous summer program, that hasn’t happened in a really long time,” she said.

GEAR UP prepares students moving from middle school to high school or elementary school to middle school and has been working with the schools for more than 10 years.

This year, the district used federal grant money to put GEAR UP programs around the city offering a total of 1,000 places in seven programs, 700 more students than last year.

At GEAR UP’s Summer Success Academy, there is room for 600 incoming eight and ninth-graders from anywhere in San Francisco in a free, four-week academic enrichment program June 14- July 9. It’s worth up to 10 school credits. Space is still available.

The program is tailored to prepare students for high school and includes college planning. It’s being held at schools where more than half the students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

There’s capacity for 120 students each at Mission and John O’Connell High Schools. As yet, the two schools have enrolled 77 and 66 kids, respectively. Students can also attend at nearby Thurgood Marshall and Balboa High Schools.

“This is your answer to your loss of summer school,” Lambert said.

There will also be GEAR UP programming at Horace Mann, Everett, International Studies Academy, and James Lick Middle Schools for middle-school students.

Another well-liked, ongoing summer enrichment program in the Bay Area is Aim High.

The program strengthens students’ skills in language, math, and sciences in a smaller environment, “giving them more attention than they would get in a regular school,” said Kat White, Aim High’s development and communications coordinator.

“We would love to be able to offer this sort of enrichment to all the students in San Francisco who need it,” White said. This summer Aim High will accept 1100 students, the same as last year. White said their applicant numbers were similar to last year’s.

It costs the program $1800 per student for the summer program, including meals and transportation; but that expense is paid through public and private funding. Students pay nothing.

White was unable to say how many will be attending from the Mission District this year, but she said that in 2009, 41 students came from Mission, about 4 percent.

Their program doesn’t officially offer high school credit like summer school used to, but it provides programming that was taken away from summer school in past years.

At Mission High, administrators have pushed to come up with their own summer school replacements, sending students to City College’s College for Teens and Summerbridge at University High School, as well as GEAR UP.

“We are partnering with GEAR UP so that we can offer classes to all grade levels,” wrote Eric Guthertz, the principal of Mission High, in an email.

College for Teens is a program that parents pay for out-of-pocket and students can get high school credit for. Classes cost $200-375 each.

Pamela Lyau, of College for Teens, said that many of the 500 students were taking advanced placement classes.

Other free options – paid through GEAR UP – this summer include 30 spots for rising tenth-grade students at City College’s Health Academy. Also 100 spots at San Francisco State’s Math Program for incoming ninth and tenth-graders, and 30 spots for ninth-graders at the California Academy of Science’s Young Scientist Program, 60 spots at College for Teens, and 100 places for ninth-graders at College for Kids at San Francisco City College.

For some parts of San Francisco, like Bayview, schools and community leaders say they are working quite hard on trying to come up with activities to keep teenagers busy over the summer so they’re not getting in trouble.

The worry is those kids at risk – the ones teetering between staying in school and dropping out – would have been occupied by summer school.  Students have to be pro-active in applying for summer school and some of the neediest students aren’t being forced into the classroom.

Up until this summer, for example, San Francisco Unified School District’s summer school was also mandated for eighth-grade students who haven’t met the requirements to continue on to high school.  Now, principals have to decide whether those same kids will stay back or go on.

Sanchez said he’d be letting the handful of his borderline students go on to high school. If a student was truly unprepared, he would place them in a different middle school because returning to Horace Mann would be unproductive.

“You’re offering them the same classes and the same teachers, the same recipe,” Sanchez said.

School and juvenile justice staff were unable to comment on whether summer school cuts themselves will affect youth crime rates.

The hope is youngsters will be diverted to any number of other enrichment programs, or other summer camps at the YMCA or elsewhere.   Juvenile detention center statistics do not show an increase in admissions between the beginning and end of summer for 2009 or 2008. However, overall monthly admissions have been slowly declining in the past two years.

Putting so much stake in summer school might be somewhat misguided, since it only occupies the first four to six weeks of summer.

Nonetheless, combined with other city budget cuts, such as reductions at the Parks and Recreation Department, a summer without summer school seems to be a worry, particularly in nearby Bayview.

“I’m very concerned about the summer, and we’re all working feverishly to get kids placed in jobs,” said Bayview Police Captain Greg Suhr. “Everybody in this district is raining on City Hall.”

“We’re reaching out to anybody and everybody,” Sophie Maxwell, District 10 supervisor, said.

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Anrica is a science reporter and twice Cal grad, with a degree in engineering and a master of journalism. She's a Bay Area native and lives in Oakland. She's enjoyed wide-ranging professional endeavors, including shoveling manure, researching human signaling proteins, volunteering in a leprosy hospital, using an atomic force microscope, and modeling the electricity grid.

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