Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Academy helps students transition to high school

Bethesda-Chevy Chase summer school supports those who need a little extra help

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Instructor Richard Noland teaches study skills at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School’s Summer Academy. The academy is held annually for three weeks over the summer and aids students with the transition from middle to high school.
Standing in the front of a classroom at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Richard Noland asked his students what they hope to be in the future.

One said a dentist, another a filmmaker. A third wanted to work in computers.

Each of the students knew, however, that to reach those goals, they needed to get through Summer Academy, a three-week program that helps students with the transition from middle to high school.

Through a grant from the B-CC Educational Foundation, Noland is one of three teachers working this summer for the B-CC Summer Academy. The Educational Foundation is an organization that funds school programs not included in the school’s formal budget.

The students, about 50 in all, were targeted due to their academic difficulties at Westland Middle School, B-CC’s feeder school. Over the course of the three weeks, students take math, English and study skills classes.

The main goal of the program is to help students who may get lost academically in the transition from Westland to B-CC. Ninth grade is often a make-it-or-break-it year, according to Deborah Newman, Summer Academy coordinator, who said that if students don’t take the shift seriously, they could find themselves in a hole.

The academy’s teachers know there are innumerable lessons to be learned during the program.

‘‘From what I’m seeing, the English and math help,” said Noland, who has taught at the program for two summers, ‘‘but the real achievement is in getting them to meet the teachers beforehand, and let them know what is expected of them in high school.”

Newman said that the difference between middle school and high school is accountability.

‘‘Now everything counts,” Newman said. ‘‘In middle school you could skirt by, but if you want to go to college, or get into a good college, you need to work harder.”

As an incentive, students who successfully complete and regularly attend the program receive a $25 gift certificate to Westfield Montgomery.

The students themselves, however, are divided as to their reasons for being at the academy. Many were signed up by their parents, while others wanted to attend the program.

‘‘I need to be prepared for high school, so I wanted to do it,” said Jameelah Thalley, 14, of Silver Spring. ‘‘The study skills and note-taking I’ve learned will help me do better.”

But, as with any high school, there are also students who would rather be elsewhere.

‘‘It’s kind of boring,” said Nana Twum Agyire, a 13-year-old from Chevy Chase. ‘‘But at least I know where I am now, and I get to know some of the teachers.”

According to Newman, no other school in the county has a program of this length — 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday — and duration — three weeks, from June 25 to July 13. The program doesn’t cost the students or their parents anything, with all books and supplies provided by the foundation.

Other schools around the county do have summer programs, according to MCPS spokeswoman Kate Harrison, but the one that is most similar to B-CC’s is at Blake High School in Silver Spring. The High School 101 Summer Institute at Blake runs from 8:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. for two weeks.

One hundred students are initially asked to join the B-CC program, with about 50 attending annually. Those students’ academic progress is then tracked through a program called BRAG (Barons Reaching Academic Goals), named after the school’s mascot.

While most of the lessons take place in the classroom, the students’ time outside the academic realm can be just as valuable.

‘‘Beside the obvious skills they learn, getting acclimated to the building is really important for the students,” Newman said.

In order to help the students learn the building’s five-story layout, the academy holds a scavenger hunt, Newman said.

The study skills class is also joined frequently by staff from the Bethesda YMCA Youth and Family Services department. During their time, they teach the students about leadership and problem-solving.

‘‘I like the youth activities,” said Twum Agyire, who wants to get into aircraft and automobile design after college. ‘‘We play games that teach us about communication and teamwork.”