Long Hot Summer May Be Alleviated By Miami Schools

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Dade County, Fla., like most urban areas, faces the prospect of thousands of unemployed and disappointed young people idling away a long, hot summer. But Dade County, unlike most major cities, has decided that summer school can be an effective way of keeping the summer cool and making it productive.

As a result of considerable planning, widespread community cooperation, and an unusual and aggressive recruiting campaign, the Dade County school system expects to keep more than half of its schools open and operating to provide an extensive array of courses and activities to as many as half the students normally enrolled in the system.

While the county in recent years has put more emphasis on summer programs than have other large districts, this year's efforts are even more intensive than usual. District officials will spend $17.4 million in state funds to keep 138 of the system's 250 schools and technical centers open for the six-week summer session. And they hope to enroll at least half of the 224,500 students who attend the system's regular sessions.

Vigorous Media Campaign

With support from the local teachers' union and various community groups, school officials are just beginning to wage a vigorous media campaign to encourage parents to enroll their children in the summer program.

Though district officials are basing their current projections on last year's enrollment figure (83,600 students), the schools may well be opening their doors on July 7 to many more students than were served last year as a result of the "advertising blitz." And in addition to the campaign, registration will be extended to July 14th this year to entice more students back inside the schools' doors.

Called "Summertime, Summer Session: The Start of Something Big," the media campaign will include radio and television spots, paid advertising in English and Spanish newspapers, direct-mail notices to 3,000 parents, and posters displayed in the schools and local businesses. In addition, the organizers asked principals to send home letters in mid-May and again this week encouraging parents to investigate the wide range of summer offerings.

School officials hope the intensive media campaign will be successful in attracting students, said Georgia Slack, director of news and community relations for the district. "We just don't want to see them hanging around on the street with nothing to do," she explained, "when there are so many things to learn--to sew a dress, to learn a new language, to learn about art--things that they might not be able to do during the regular school year. We would like to see the kids productive and participating in organized, worthwhile activities."

"I don't believe we will see another episode like the May 1980 riots," said Richard O. White, executive director of the division of elementary and secondary instruction. "But there are a number of students who will be unable to get a summer job and who will be left with too much time on their hands. It certainly makes for a crime-fomenting situation. We want to see young people learning, and we believe that they can find some interesting things to do in the schools this summer."

Appealed to Private Sector

Though the April unemployment figure for Florida was 7.9 percent--lower than elsewhere in the country--officials in the Miami-Dade County area estimated last week that 50,000 youths between the ages of 16 and 21 would be seeking employment this summer, and once again they appealed to the private sector to provide 30,000 additional jobs for these teen-agers.

Last year, about 9,000 students were employed through ceta programs, district officials noted, but only 3,600 jobs will be funded by the federal program this year.

Though unemployment figures for youths between the ages of 16 and 19 in the county are also somewhat lower than in other urban areas, 15.7 percent of white teen-agers and 37.3 percent of black teen-agers in the Miami area were not able to find employment in 1981, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"We are basically saying that jobs are scarce, the summer is long, why not come to school and learn something," said Ms. Slack. "This is not a district administration and union effort. This is a community effort to keep the community cool this summer. We have joined forces with others in Dade County to tell parents there is an alternative--a free alternative--available in the schools. We are trying to tell them about a healthy, stimulating opportunity."

The district has faced the challenge of keeping the schools "cool" before. In May 1980, race riots erupted in the Liberty City area of Miami, sending shock waves throughout the community and the rest of the country.

Last week, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which for the past two years has been examining the disturbances in Miami, issued a report calling for increased public and private initiatives to improve some of the factors leading to the riots.

Stopping short of predicting another outbreak of disturbances, the commission's report cited high unemployment, rising crime rates, the lack of affordable housing, an insen-sitive criminal-justice system, an inadequate educational system, and the continued lack of opportunities for blacks to enter the social and economic mainstream as strife-fomenting factors present in most urban centers across the country.

"We need to remember our history and the mistakes of the past," said the commission's chairman, Clarence E. Pendleton. "We must now work together to resolve our urban and racial problems, or we may be doomed to repeat them."

Acutely aware of the youth unemployment problem, Dade County's superintendent, Leonard M. Britton, and Pat Tornillo Jr., executive vice president of the United Teachers of Dade County (utdc), initiated discussions with other community groups such as Dade Partners, Miami Citizens Against Crime, and Partners For Youth earlier this school year to determine what additional steps the schools could take in easing the possible tensions of the summer.

Promoting Dade County's traditionally diverse and well-funded summer program, agreed Mr. Britton and Mr. Tornillo, was a good way to begin. Later this month, the two officials will hold a joint press conference to remind parents during the three-week hiatus between the end of the regular session and the beginning of the summer session that the schools offer year-round options for their children.

"The community campaign naturally evolved as the jobs did not materialize," explained Ms. Slack. "There was recognition on everyone's part that there was a solution already in place--the summer session."

"The recent memory of the riots in 1980 is still with us," said Annette Katz, publication specialist for the utdc and one of the organizers of the campaign. "One way to keep this from happening again is through the schools, so we developed this program to advertise what the schools were offering."

Open to All Students

While many other urban districts, hardpressed to find the money to run summer activities on even a small scale, have limited their summer-school enrollments to students who must repeat a subject for promotion or graduation, the Dade County program is open to all students wishing to take credit and non-credit courses. The one exception, said Mr. White, is a student who would like to take several credit courses but "who cannot demonstrate the potential to reduce the overall time he spends in school [as a result of attending summer school]."

"We're saying: look, summer school is not just for students who have to make up work," said Ms. Slack. "It's for average and gifted students, too. Come and study drama, advance yourself to graduate early, or enroll in a vocational program to learn a skill."

The summer session serves several purposes, said Mr. White. "One is to reduce the amount of time students spend in school during their academic careers. From the 6th grade on, students can accelerate in order to graduate early. Many students come to get the basic coursework or prerequisites for more advanced work out of the way. We also offer a number of advanced courses that students might have a hard time fitting into their schedules during the regular school year."

"Another purpose is to allow a student who has failed a course to make up the work so that he can stay on track rather than repeating a year," he said. "In the long run, it is more cost-effective having him in summer school."

"Essentially," added Mr. White, "the summer session is an extension of the regular session programs--everything that is offered during the regular session is offered in the summer if there is enough demand for it."

Students can earn a maximum of two semester credits (two courses) in the summer session, and the schoolday runs two three-hour blocks for a total of 30 days. In addition, students who are 16 or older and who may have summer jobs can attend evening classes in adult and vocational education and earn credits towards their high-school degrees or associate degrees from one of the three community colleges in the area.

Among some of the other summer-session programs are:

The Court-Observer program, in which secondary-school students "apprentice" with a judge or prosecutor to learn about the criminal-justice system.

The Crandon Park Environmental Center on Key Biscayne, which gives upper elementary students the opportunity to learn about the tides, to explore marine life, and to identify the flora and fauna of a mangrove swamp.

The Laboratory Orientation and Instrumentation program, which pairs 30 gifted high-school students with researchers and scientists in local marine-science and medical laboratories. In addition, 150 biology and physics students will join area scientists in similar laboratory situations under a program called Motivation Indepth.

A junior-high-school program for the visual arts and drama, for which students must audition to enroll. This center functions as a magnet school for the visual arts during the regular session.

Many Courses Offered

The district will also offer a wide variety of vocational-occupational courses encompassing about 100 different skills and will enroll 20,000 language-minority students in English-immersion programs this summer. The language offerings also include Spanish classes to improve the literacy of Spanish-speaking children in their native tongue, as well as Spanish-immersion classes for non-Spanish-speaking students.

"The last several years, we have run a serious summer program," said Angeline S. Welty, executive director of educational programs administration. "It is not a frills type of operation--it is school, an extension of our regular curriculum."

Vol. 01, Issue 38

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