Jessica Wong, a teacher at Galileo Academy of Science and Technology High School, handed out coffee filters and food coloring to students in her summer school class on a recent warm June morning as part of a chemistry lesson about molecular compounds.
The some two dozen students in her class were instructed to place a dot of food coloring onto the coffee filters and dip the product into saltwater, then watch the food coloring rise to the top and examine which colors had mixed and which had not.
“The idea is to get [students] more involved and teach them a more real-world manner…for summer school particularly, more so than in the general school year,” Wong explained.
Wong’s general education chemistry class is one of the dozens of credit recovery courses offered by the San Francisco Unified School District this summer. There are more courses than ever before this year following more rigorous graduation requirements that were first implemented for the class of 2014 and additional funding for summer school.
The A-G course sequence, adopted as a graduation requirement by the Board of Education in 2008, is the minimum required courses students must pass to be eligible to apply for the California State University and University of California systems.
With those requirements in place beginning with the class of 2014, San Francisco’s public high school graduation rate dropped below the statewide average for the first time in at least five years.
In 2014, 79.9 percent of students graduated from The City’s public high schools, compared to 80.8 percent of students statewide, according to data released by the California Department of Education in April. The graduation rate in San Francisco had previously hovered at about 82 percent since 2010-11.
District officials are fairly certain that “it was the A-G [requirements] that affected the dip” in the graduation rate, said Heidi Anderson, a spokeswoman for the SFUSD.
Gentle Blythe, another spokeswoman for the district, told the San Francisco Examiner in April that district officials “were cautious about the possibility that [the new graduation requirements] could hold back some students.”
Subsequently, the district has seen an increase in students who earned credits in summer school — from 2,111 students in the summer of 2013 to 2,143 last summer.
Around 600 more students are taking summer school this year, and some 80 additional credit recovery classes are being offered.
In the summer of 2014, students earned credits in 3,488 courses, because some students took more than one class. That number could rise again this year once the summer school session ends July 15, district officials said.
But the increase in summer school classes this year to allow more students to retake a course they failed the first time is also due to an overall increase in funding for the district, which last month saw its largest budget — $787.5 million for the 2015-16 school year, an increase of $71 million — since the recession in the late 2000s.
“What’s happening now is a really nice coming together of stricter standards and more money for the school district,” Anderson said.
This year, the district has allocated $1.35 million for summer school, some $350,000 to $400,000 more than last summer, according to district officials.
The increase in funds allowed the SFUSD to add teachers and a fifth summer school site this year — John O’Connell High School — allowing for classes at five sites (Balboa, Galileo, Lincoln, Mission and O’Connell high schools).
The district also credits additional outreach to students during the school year with boosting enrollment in summer school. Monthly meetings between counselors and students this past spring kept students aware of the graduation requirements, said Nelson Paw of the SFUSD’s Extended Learning and Support program that oversees summer school.
“Counselors are getting the word out that you have to meet this rigorous curriculum in order to graduate,” Paw said. “Now A-G is pretty much part of the language in the hallways, and students understand that, and they understand that when they fail something, they’re accountable to make it up.”
Students generally appreciate how the summer school learning environment differs from the regular school year, including smaller class sizes and more individualized attention. Summer school classes average 30 students, whereas during the school year classes are generally more than 30 students.
“In summer school, I feel like I fit in more, I learn more, as opposed to the regular school year,” said Tera Hurley, 18, who intends to graduate this month upon completing math and economics at Galileo Academy of Science and Technology High School.
Maria Valenzuela, 16, is making up a science class at Galileo this summer as well.
“I had a hard time adjusting to my chemistry class,” Valenzuela said. “I couldn’t focus, therefore I couldn’t learn what was going on. Now I’m doing much better.”A-G graduation requirementsCommon CoreeducationGalileo High Schoolgraduation rateSan Francisco Unified School Districtschoolsummer school