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CCAC takes over summer school

| Thursday, June 7, 2001

Summer school. A good student might call that phrase an oxymoron, because everyone knows high school ends, mercifully, in June.

But many students with failing grades will spend the summer learning how to spell words like oxymoron, sweating it out in non-air conditioned classrooms and wishing they were outside.

And students aren't the only ones who look forward to three months of vacation.

Teachers and administrators often have summer plans, which is one reason that most high schools in Allegheny County have farmed out their summer school programs to the Community College of Allegheny County.

The northern suburbs, working with CCAC's North campus, were the proving grounds for the arrangement. School districts in the southern suburbs, along with CCAC's South and Airport West campuses, followed suit in the late 1970s.

'It started at North in the mid-1970s and was so successful that the other campuses and school districts adopted the same model,' said Leslie Bartok, CCAC's dean of continuing education.

Bartok said cuts at that time in state support for summer school programs - combined with the complexities of contracting teachers and administrators to work the summer months - led public school administrators to CCAC.

'It got to be a very expensive program for them because of their teacher contracts and the loss of state funding,' she said.

'They approached the community college and said, 'We have this problem, is there some way we could work together to solve it?''

CCAC draws summer school teachers from the school districts, the substitute teacher lists and from its own campuses.

Summer school classes start in late June. Exact starting dates vary according to when classes end and when students learn of their failing grades in each district.

CCAC's four campuses enrolled 3,789 students for summer school last year, with 584 through the south campus.

Patricia Krebs, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, said about five of the state's 14 community colleges provide summer school programs to local school districts.

'Not all community colleges have gotten involved, but apparently it's considered by some community colleges and school districts to be a win-win situation,' she said.

The college's South and Airport West campuses set up shop in school buildings - West Mifflin Area Middle School, Seton-LaSalle High School in Mt. Lebanon and the Parkway West Area Vocational-Technical School in Robinson Township, as well as the community college's Bethel Park Center.

The sites change from year to year. Some buildings become unavailable due to summer construction projects, and enrollment is not limited to students from districts that host the program.

M.J. Mandler of CCAC's Airport West Center said the arrangement benefits the school districts and the community college.

'It's good public relations for us, it's good exposure for the students to a college and I think it performs a community service,' she said. 'It fills a need.'

Jen Engel, director of lifelong learning at CCAC's South campus in West Mifflin, said the community college works closely with the school districts to offer classes their students need.

'It just works out nicely because of their experience with it,' West Mifflin Assistant Superintendent Pat Serrapere said.

He said the loss of state funding for summer school in the 1970s and the difficulty of getting district teachers and administrators to commit to working the summer shifts led to the arrangement with CCAC.

'It just seemed more efficient to get a contractor, and they've done a good job,' Serrapere said.

'It accomplishes what it's supposed to accomplish, and it's well done.'

A few districts - such as Mt. Lebanon and Steel Valley - do run their own summer schools.

Steel Valley switched from CCAC summer school to its own in 1992 and offers remedial math, English, physical education and sometimes science and social studies.

'When CCAC did it, if they didn't have enough students registered the class was canceled,' said Bernadette Vandriak of the Steel Valley School District. 'If we don't have enough students we still try to offer the course, even if we're losing money.

'I think it's worked out better for the students.'

She said the classes cost $150 for high school courses and $80 for middle school classes.

CCAC summer school costs $120 for 60-hour remedial classes. Students are responsible for the cost.

In addition to the remedial classes, Steel Valley offers a summer program called Kids College. The classes are for enrichment rather than remediation, which means students take them by choice.

Assistant Superintendent Janice Glunk said the remedial classes attract about 175 middle and high school students, while the enrichment program usually attracts about 75 children between the ages of 6 and 14.

'In the past it has been very popular,' Glunk said of the program, which offers a variety of courses such as art programs, 'things kids wouldn't ordinarily get during the school year.'

Summer enrichment programs for grade and middle school students are offers by many school districts.

Mt. Lebanon spokeswoman Cecile Bowman said the district's summer school program offers a wide range of enrichment classes at the high school level, in addition to the remedial ones.

She said some good students are so busy during the school year with advanced placement classes that they come in the summer to make up another class like health.

CCAC also offers enrichment classes in the summer, at a cost of $210 for 120 hours of instruction.

'We do have many students that are in the classes because they want to get ahead for the following year' said Engel of the South campus.

But, she added, most kids in class during summertime are there because they have to be. 'Definitely more use it for remediation,' she said.

Brandon Keat can be reached at or (412) 380-8546.

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