Replacing Summer School With Saturday School: One District’s Journey and Advice

Summer school. It’s a dreaded phrase for some students on the cusp of summer break; however, it’s a reality for those not meeting academic expectations. But the question remains: Does it really help?

As Independent Mail reported in February, students at Robert Anderson Middle School (RAMS) now receive support on Saturdays during the school year instead of waiting until summertime to repair learning gaps. Here are some compelling reasons why our school district explored Saturday school as an alternative to traditional summer school programs—and why yours may want to as well.

1. It isn’t too late to remediate.

Although participation in a summer school program may give students a boost for the upcoming school year, it has zero impact on their performance during the previous 180 school days. Struggling students need interventions in real time to maximize their academic potential.

At RAMS, following each nine-week grading period students are invited to attend up to three four-hour sessions on consecutive Saturdays (each for a different course failed). Not only do students earn a passing quarterly grade of 60/D for each course; they also receive key academic feedback in a small group setting. This can help them meet academic expectations in the upcoming nine-week grading periods.

2. It has long-term benefits.

Content recovery via Saturday school affords each student the opportunity to be more successful throughout the school year, thus preventing final course failures, which can lead to retention in the present grade level. Research from the National Dropout Prevention Center suggests that students who have poor attendance and behavior, fail multiple courses, and are retained more than once are at a greater risk of dropping out of high school.

At the middle school level, it’s important to recognize these factors and offer wrap-around support, like Saturday school, that positively alters students’ academic trajectory. Not only will this eventually contribute to higher graduation rates, but it also puts more students on the path toward a rewarding future career.

3. It lets us leverage collective capacity.

Teachers are the experts when it comes to meeting the unique needs of their students. Allowing them time to plan personalized learning experiences for students attending Saturday school is critical to making the most of each session. Acquiring a sub for a full or partial day gives teachers who sign up to teach Saturday school the chance to devise lessons collectively that integrate content, target weak skill areas, and benefit all students.

At RAMS, the feedback following each Saturday school implementation led to refinements that increased the effectiveness of the initiative over time. For example, students were required to complete missing assignments before attending Saturday school. This held students accountable for their work and enlarged their learning opportunities.

4. It might pay off (literally).

Parents have been both supportive and appreciative of the Saturday school option. Summer school can be a hardship for weekday working parents, so Saturday school gives them an alternative. Some students missed weekend sporting activities to attend Saturday school, reinforcing the “academics first” mentality and motivating them to take advantage of every opportunity to do well in the subsequent nine-week grading periods.

Although transportation to Saturday school was not offered last year, it is a consideration for the current school year. Even though academic conditions were improving schoolwide, Saturday school participation increased throughout the year as more families realized the benefits of early intervention.

Saturday school can save schools and districts money in comparison to summer school programs, depending on transportation options offered, meals or snacks served, and the number of students attending (therefore determining the number of teachers to be paid). Both summer school and Saturday school programs require a financial investment; however, the rewards are well worth it.

RAMS students have made great gains in academic achievement in recent years, and improvement is still on the rise. Established instructional strategies promote schoolwide success, but a culture of collective leadership and innovation keeps RAMS on the cutting edge of educational progress. When faced with a new challenge, RAMS faculty work together to create solutions. As a result, students and families benefit. Saturday school is one such avenue that has yielded positive results. How can your school adapt these ideas about Saturday school into a system to meet the needs of your own students?

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Robert Anderson Middle School in Anderson, South Carolina, held a session about its Saturday school program at the 26th Annual Model Schools Conference in Orlando, Florida, earlier this year. While MSC 2018 has come and gone, you can hear more thought leaders and speakers at our Leadership Academy 2018: Leading With Vision in Atlanta from Nov. 2–4, 2018, as well as the 27th Annual Model Schools Conference in Washington, D.C., from June 23–26, 2019.