No vacation from learning
It's a hazy summer morning. While most kids are wiping sleep from their eyes, Nicole Dicriscio, 13, is figuring out which integer will solve her math problem.
She's spending her summer vacation at school.
"I want to get ahead," said Nicole, of Greensburg, who is enrolled in summer math classes at Greensburg Salem Middle School. "I like to excel in school."
Greensburg Salem offers its elementary and middle school students the chance to attend summer "academies" free of charge. Parents provide transportation, and the district invests about $10,000 to keep the programs running.
These aren't remedial courses, such as those offered throughout the county to students who need to re-take a class or make up for a failing grade. This year's elementary academies focus on theater, chemistry, wildlife, the ocean and music. Middle school students can study math, theater, fitness, bead-making or sketching.
Academy topics differ each year, depending on which instructors offer to teach and the curriculums they create, said Carol Brown, of Greensburg, the district's director of instruction and assessment.
Classes may last a few weeks or the entire summer, depending on the topic. Parents provide transportation.
"Some kids just don't really have the money to go to a summer camp," said Brown, who oversees the academies.
Math instructor Carole Malik said the classes have helped to prepare her middle school students for the Mathcounts chapter competition in February. Eight students -- four individual competitors and a team of four -- attend the annual contest.
"We've taken someone to the state level every year and sometimes the whole team," said Malik, of Murrysville.
Even students who don't want to compete benefit from the academy, she added.
Ricky Miller, 13, of Greensburg is enrolled in the summer math program for the second time.
"I didn't think I was ready to go to the competition level," he said. "That's one of the reasons I chose to do this -- to try to improve for next year."
This summer's most popular program is the theater academy, Brown said. Fifty students applied, so the group was split into two.
Sixth-grader Erin Waugaman, 11, of Greensburg, said she signed up because she loves to act. But she also enjoys having something to do while school is out.
"I don't like sitting around doing nothing in the summer," Erin said. "It bores me."
Kelcie Kuhns, 11, also of Greensburg, clutched a piece of paper as she waited to be picked up from her first theater class.
"I have to memorize all that," she said, scanning the monologue. "I think it'll be a little hard, but I'll be able to do it."
The elementary and middle school theater groups will perform for their parents before classes end. The plays -- fairy tales with a modern twist -- were written by instructor Mandy Jones, of Hempfield Township.
"It's nice to do something where the kids can come and not have to pay anything for it," she said. "I've noticed a huge difference between this and 'normal' school. They seem to really enjoy being here, since it was their choice."
Each academy teacher works with about 15 or 20 students, who apply for the classes in March. In six years, the program has grown from 75 students to more than 200 this year, Brown said.
"It's not high pressure, and you're up and you're moving and you're doing all kinds of hands-on experiments," she said.
"It's a really nice opportunity for kids of all abilities to work together."