MANATEE -- Lincoln Middle School student Kristian Aleman admitted sometimes he just doesn't want to participate in school, but Thursday he was leading his team of fellow students through an obstacle challenge with confidence as part of a special summer school program.
"I don't like talking much," Aleman said. "But this has taught me to ask for what I need and be polite."
Lincoln Middle School -- along with Harllee and Sugg middle schools -- partnered with the St. Petersburg-based ropes course and team-building company Pathfinder Outdoor Education to offer a unique summer school program for students to make up needed classes. This is the first year the schools have offered this program.
Brigid Stockner, a No Child Left Behind specialist for the Manatee County school district and the summer program coordinator, secured grants through Title I federal funding for an intense summer school for eighth-graders who failed classes this year. The 13-day program focuses on challenging students academically and physically, Stockner said.
Students attend class from 8 a.m. through noon under a strict attendance policy where they are only allowed to be tardy twice. Stockner said attendance has been successful because of its out-of-the-box learning philosophy.
"It isn't punitive," she said.
This week, students worked with the team-building organization Pathfinder, which provides ropes courses and obstacle challenges to schools, religious groups and corporate retreats. Pathfinder reps visited students at Harllee on Wednesday, Lincoln on Thursday and are set to visit Sugg on Friday.
Of the three groups, Lincoln is the smallest with 25 summer students, while Harllee and Sugg each have 50.
"We wanted to take the kids on a field trip where we could do ropes courses. The grant gave us the opportunity to bring the courses to them," Stockner said.
Students did not climb high in the trees, a signature Pathfinder exercise, but they worked closely with each other to develop problem-solving skills through mazes
and other activities.
"Pathfinder presents a problem to the students that they know will frustrate them," Stockner said.
Pathfinder coach Kelly Travers said she enjoys watching students and adults complete the courses and challenges. Summer program teachers participated in the challenges.
"Adults don't always get the challenges more easily," Travers said. "They get established in patterns, and then have to figure out how to do it better. The students are also accepting challenges and working their way up with an attitude of 'Let's do it!'"
Stockner said the program helps students prepare for high school in many ways. They get a second chance at the courses they failed as well as learning the role social skills play in education.
"Students will have to be able to do group projectsin high school, college and the workforce," Stockner said.
The program uses teachers from local middle schools and high schools, giving the students a chance to meet some of their future teachers before they begin high school.
Paul Stone, a math teacher at Palmetto High School, said his summer class for the middle schoolers is rigourous, but it doesn't feel that way because he does not teach rote memorization.
"I am taking them from a line of learning to a web of learning," Stone said. "We are emphasizing connections, like between time tables and algebra, to give them the reason to understand."
The program, and the collaboration with Pathfinder, is meant to provide a learning environment without social barriers.
"It is erasing their fear of getting close to one another," Stockner said.
Lincoln Middle School Principal Ronnie King said summer school helped students who are struggling academically realize they are not alone.
"Many of them were at the point of wanting to give up," King said.
Stockner said she is happy with the number of students enrolled in the summer program but it's also bittersweet.
"We were excited to get kids over the summer, but it also means that we have that many kids that are not passing," Stockner said.
Stone said the program is a turnaround point for students.
"If students are two ormore years behind, then they have a higher chance of never graduating, and they fall even more behind," Stone said.
"We are trying to save lives by making education work for these students."
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.