Fridays are paydays for students earning a stipend for hitting the books this summer. But educators say the real payoff will come in September, when these students hit the ground running in high school.
"Nothing" is what 14-year-old James Foxworth says he would be doing this morning if not enrolled in a unique summer-school program that pays students minimum wage to attend classes and field trips, in preparation for high school. In the past, the Buffalo, N.Y., school district has paid students for summer jobs and internships. But compensating them to attend classes is new.
Although he'll make about $900 during the six-week course, James says that's not all that keeps him coming to Burgard Vocational High School at 8 a.m., five days a week. "I'm getting a head start on learning," he says. Program organizers say that is just what he and his fellow students need - especially in Buffalo, where, according to Kate Rooney, a curriculum supervisor for the city's schools, more than 85 percent of students entering ninth grade have failed at least one state assessment test.
Soon-to-be freshmen participating in the summer program take English, math, and social studies classes, as well as auto shop. Part of the week is spent touring auto-related businesses, including dealerships, manufacturing plants, and repair shops. UAW-GM hosts the classes at its human-resources center in Cheektowaga, with the hope of eventually adding to its pool of workers. The Niagara Frontier Auto Dealers Association has been another enthusiastic partner.
"A lot of people [today] are being directed toward careers rather than vocations, and I think that is now coming home to roost," says Ron Baug, co-director of the UAW center. "We're in jeopardy in the skilled-trade area." UAW-GM pays the Burgard teachers' salaries for the summer.
The students fill out time sheets, face evaluations, and are paid every two weeks. They are docked for sick time and tardiness. Their checks are written by Buffalo Employment Training Services, drawing from a federal grant. Attendance among the 45 students in the program has been an impressive 93 percent. "We run a pretty tight ship," says John Suchy, a career-development coordinator who runs the program.
Unlike traditional summer school, the classwork is not remedial, but looks ahead to what students will encounter in high school. The pay provides an extra tool to keep students' attention, and helps to instill a good work ethic, according to social-studies teacher Tom Giordano.
"We try to treat [it] as a job," he says. The pay is a "tool the kids use to keep themselves in line and focused on what they need to do. We try to tell them, sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do in a job."
For many of the students, nearly 80 percent of whom live below the poverty level, the program's field trips provide their first exposure to available, well-paying jobs, and help reinforce classroom lessons. "It's not detached, it's not theoretical," says John Kozinski, a school counselor. "This exposure to the world of work gives kids an opportunity to make the learning more meaningful."