A Summer School Math Problem: How To Fit A Full Year In 5 Weeks?

Aug 8, 2014
Originally published on August 8, 2014 6:57 pm

It's a nightmare borne by many kids: summer school. Within five weeks, students are expected to complete a course that would otherwise be conducted over a whole year. It's a tall task for both students and teachers.

Copyright 2018 Youth Radio. To see more, visit Youth Radio.


If you're a teen, pretty much the last place you want to be on a beautiful summer day is in a classroom with 36 other kids. Youth Radio recently spent a morning in a packed San Francisco summer school class - 9th, 10th and 11th graders were all making up math credits together. It's a challenging environment for them and for their teacher. She only has five weeks to teach an entire course to an unusually big class.

MARLISE LEWIS: I'm Marlise Lewis(ph) and I'm teaching algebra one - first year algebra credit recovery at Balboa High School. I knew when I first signed up that it was credit recovery. So I knew that we were really talking about kids who are struggling with math - who probably had been struggling with math for years and years and years. And, you know, I was a little anxious. Like, was I going to be able to manage 'cause I don't normally teach high school?

Two X plus - you see how this three is here? So I'm going to - and then instead of this Y, because Y is equal - it's like Y has two names - right? - or two looks.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: The environment at summer school is pretty out of control because, like, kids would do their work, and then, like, once they're done with their work, they just get up and leave out and, like, be out of their seat wandering around and stuff.


LEWIS: My momentary analysis is that actually, you know, you can do it. You can follow it. What's holding you down is working slowly.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT # 2: Math isn't my strong suit so...

LEWIS: Yes, but I think you can actually get it. I think it's just that you need a long time to process, which is OK.

If our objective is to teach these children the math that they missed so that they can be successful in their next level, then they need to be in circumstances where they can truly learn that material. So these kids got their credits. Woo-hoo, you know (Laughing). I mean I'm glad, but it's the same like a math problem. If you understand the mathematical process correctly, then you will get the correct result. So what you need is the process not the result.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT # 3: You need to know what your goals are. My goals were to pass English and Math, so I passed.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT # 4: I can say that when I move on to the next grade and the next chapter of math, I wouldn't be confused on how to do it.

LEWIS: Yesterday I gave them the final. You know, they had two and a half hours, but for a lot of these kids, they just can't focus and concentrate for that long. So I had told them that's fine. Do what you can and then come back the next day, and you can rework the final with a fresh mind. So the kids who came back today were the kids who had decided that either they hadn't finished it or they just wanted an opportunity to go back over it and do better and raise their grade.


LEWIS: OK, here's what I need you to do. Listen to me.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT # 5: No, I'm about to bounce. I'm done.

LEWIS: I got that. OK, what I'm going to tell you is that I will have all of the grades finished by tomorrow. I know you guys - all three of you are passing, plus the credit you need to go to college. And I am expecting all three of you to go to college. Yeah, you got this, OK?

BLOCK: That is Marlise Lewis and her summer school students, Savion Hollingsworth (ph), Destiny Campbell (ph), and Tracina Johnson (ph). They were at San Francisco's Balboa High School. Our story was produced by Youth Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.