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Session jump-starts pupils

Rising middle and high school students attend their fall sites for three weeks of reading and math.

Published June 5, 2007

Raymond Sanchez, who will be entering the 6th-grade in the fall, participates in a math-skills class in a computer lab at Thomas E. Weightman Middle School in Wesley Chapel. Sanchez is a participant in a summer program to help ease the transition from elementary to middle school.
[Times photo: Stephen J. Coddington]
[Times photo: Stephen J. Coddington]
Students participate in a math-skills class in a computer lab at Thomas E. Weightman Middle School in Wesley Chapel.

WESLEY CHAPEL - Rebecca George admits it: The idea of middle school made her nervous.

"I was scared if I come here the first day of school not knowing where to go or what to do," Rebecca, 11, said Monday morning as she sat in the middle of the Weightman Middle School campus sipping a bottled water and sharing headphones with a friend. "I'm glad I came today."

Rebecca joined dozens of other incoming sixth-graders at Weightman, and hundreds across Pasco County, for the first day of a three-week extended school year to help them with reading and math skills.

That schools don't close during the summer is nothing new. What is new is the district's foray into placing last year's fifth- and eighth-graders at the schools they'll attend in the fall rather than at the ones they attended until just days ago.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino implemented the "previewing" idea to give the kids, many of whom have had some difficulties in school, a leg up as they make what can be a daunting transition.

Students and educators alike praised the idea.

"It helps to alleviate the anxiety that the students have and that the parents have," Weightman assistant principal Kirsten Joyer said.

She noted the myriad ways in which middle school differs from elementary school, including switching teachers, class choices and moving around a much larger campus without an adult guiding you everywhere. Yet many of the sixth-graders get overwhelmed, reading specialist Virginia Hinze said, as many don't develop out of the elementary-level mind-set until the seventh grade.

"We need to bridge that for them," Hinze said.

That means much more than giving a campus tour. Teachers for the summer program introduce the students to computer programs that they'll be using and give them introductory lessons on the next year's curriculum, too, so they'll feel more comfortable from the first day.

"The main thing is, they're going to get a leg up," teacher Laura Burns said, before taking a group to the computer lab for math, reading and science "games."

Many of the kids frankly admitted they don't enjoy school. Asked by one teacher to name one thing about school they liked, several came up blank. Others said - come on, you know the answer - P.E.

That didn't mean they were unhappy to be at Weightman for the next three weeks, though.

"It's a new school that I've never been to before, and I didn't know what it would be like," said Jackson Ragan, 11. "I don't really like school, but it's a new experience."

Jessica Dixon, also 11, said she had no choice on whether to attend. Her parents made that decision for her. Still, Jessica took it in stride.

"I think that this is probably a great opportunity to learn more and achieve more," she said. "Some people think it's a waste of time to be here. It's better to know stuff that they won't."

Plus, she added, it's a far cry from lounging around the house without friends.

"I don't have much to do with my time" at home, Jessica said, just as break ended and she headed off to class. "Here I get to do something."

It's all very targeted stuff. Nonfiction reading, to help with science and reading skills at the same time. Basic math, because many sixth-graders come in unable to do simple problems quickly, making it tough for them to move to more complex concepts.

Teachers will do pre- and post-tests with the kids, to make sure they understand the lessons and, if not, to target instruction as closely as possible to individual needs. The data will also go to the students' school-year teachers.

The goal, Hinze said, is to find what works.

Pasco's extended school year, which includes transportation, runs through June 21. Third-grade summer reading camps continue through July 13.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at

[Last modified June 4, 2007, 21:59:56]

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