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Summer school appeals to many area students

Space Probe 355 is missing, and a class of Fargo elementary students needs to find it. The kids study their textbooks and a special computer simulation for clues. They scrutinize volcanic activity, meteorological reports and astronomical data for...


Space Probe 355 is missing, and a class of Fargo elementary students needs to find it.

The kids study their textbooks and a special computer simulation for clues. They scrutinize volcanic activity, meteorological reports and astronomical data for clues.

After adding it all up, they correctly deduce the fictitious probe is stuck on Neptune.

"I'm very, very proud of you," said Connie Howitson, their teacher.

Her students are among thousands of young people attending Fargo and West Fargo public schools this summer.


For many Fargo students, such as those in Howitson's science class, this is not their parents' summer school.

To be sure, the district offers traditional remedial classes designed to raise basic skills in math, English and reading.

And it offers credit-granting classes in math, language arts, social studies, science, health and physical education to high school students.

Enrollment in these academic classes totals about 2,100.

But the Fargo district also provides a wide range of activities in sports, music and the performing arts.

Nearly 700 students are involved this summer at the Trollwood Performing Arts School. About 630 are active in sports and 340 in music.

And the district provides so-called "enrichment classes" in computers, pottery, math and science, among other things. About 140 students are enrolled.

In the science enrichment class, for instance, students study astronomy, rocketry, wetlands, Lewis and Clark science facts, ecology and more, both in the classroom and outdoors.


The enrichment courses carry a fee -- $50, in the case of the four-week science enrichment course.

Fargo officials are proud of what they've built.

"We're able to provide some wonderful opportunities to students," said Sue Uggen, who helps run the district's summer school programs.

The Fargo district's enrichment programs are easily the most extensive in the state, she said.

Total enrollment in Fargo's summer school programs will exceed 4,000. It's uncertain how many students actually will be served because some are enrolled in more than one class or activity.

The district has about 11,000 students.

West Fargo concentrates on the traditional summer school curriculum: remedial classes for elementary kids and credit-granting classes for high school students.

The district believes its summertime efforts are best focused on remediation, rather than branching out into enrichment, said Louise Dardis, assistant West Fargo superintendent.


"We've made that commitment philosophically," she said.

More than 800 West Fargo students are enrolled in summer school. The district has about 5,300 students.

Schools aren't required to offer summer classes, but those that do must have their activities approved by the state, said Anita Decker of the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

She estimated about half of the state's 220 school districts offer remedial classes to elementary students in the summer.

Considerably more than half of the districts offer summer classes for high school students, although many of these districts offer only driver's education, she said.

Motivated students

Students have differing reasons to attend summer school.

For some, such as Fargo ninth-grader-to-be Kelly Crawford, it's a chance to get less-appealing classes out of the way.


She's taking a ninth-grade health class this summer.

"I'll be able to take classes I'm more interested in" during the regular school year, she said.

In particular, many students take phy ed during the summer, which will simplify their day during the regular school year, said Lee Myxter, who's helping coordinate the Fargo district's high school classes this summer.

For other students, summer school allows them to keep pace with their class.

Talea Kelsch is studying English at West Fargo High School this summer. She failed the class this past school year.

Passing the class this summer will put her on course to graduate with her peers next year.

English has always been a tough subject for her, she said, but she's confident of passing it this summer.

"I'm going to get it done," she said.


And some students go to summer school because they enjoy it.

This is the third summer Nyota Bisimwa is taking classes in the Fargo School District. A native of Congo, she came here 2½ years ago.

Attending school in the summer reduces pressure during the regular school year, she said.

"And it lets me meet other people," she said. "I just like being here."

Who gets in?

Parents decide whether their kids attend enrichment classes in the Fargo district.

High school students who fail a class during the regular school year typically talk with a counselor about retaking it in the summer. Students who need to retake a class generally have priority over students hoping to get it out of the way early.

To get into an elementary remedial class, students must meet specific guidelines and be recommended by a teacher.


Summer school doesn't end up costing the districts much money, school officials say.

State funding covers most of the cost of academic programs.

West Fargo schools spent about $127,000 on summer school during the past year, of which about $121,000 was paid by the state, said Mark Lemer, the district's business manager.

The Fargo district spent about $570,000 on summer school last year, said Dan Huffman, an assistant superintendent.

The state covered about $515,000 of that, student fees most of the rest, he said.

Outdated ideas

School officials say many people assume summer school is only for students who fell behind in the classroom.

Summer school's other aspects -- its enrichment programs, the academic flexibility it gives to high school students -- aren't as widely known, they say.

And there's still the old question of why young people are willing to give up part of their summer for the classroom.

"My friends are like, 'Why are you going to more school?'" said Alexa Mazaheri, a soon-to-be-sixth-grader enrolled this summer in Fargo schools' science enrichment class.

But she has the answer.

"I just tell them, 'You wouldn't be asking that if you knew what we're doing there,'" she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530

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