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High schoolers recover credits during vacations

More school districts now operate winter- and spring-break academies as a way for students to recover missing credits and to increase their chances of on-time graduation.

Minneapolis Public Schools offers classes during vacations at about 20 high schools. Students can complete courses, retake classes they’ve failed or even get a jump-start on other work.

The district also created a position for a counselor who focuses specifically on getting ninth-graders to participate in the academies, says Daren Johnson, the district’s director of extended learning.

“The majority of kids, as many as 90 percent, wait until their senior year to complete courses they failed in ninth grade,” Johnson says.

During vacations, students can spend up to two hours a day, five days a week in face-to-face and online courses. The smaller class sizes strengthen relationships between students and teachers.

“This gives students a little more reason to complete,” Johnson says.

Academy students can also choose experiential learning opportunities. For instance, the district partners with a nonprofit called Wilderness Inquiry to send students on overnight camping trips. Campers can earn credits in courses designed by the district’s ELA educators.

Minneapolis Public Schools is now developing a similar program with the city’s Walker Arts Center for students who need an arts credit to graduate.

Administrators hope to have 500 students enroll in the academies this winter and 750 in the spring, Johnson says. The academies are paid for with the district’s credit-recovery funding and the money that the district receives to spend on partnerships with community organizations.

Acceleration academies

A study (DAmag.me/recover) done by a group of Harvard University researchers found substantial academic gains by students in vacation “acceleration academies” operated by the Lawrence Public Schools, which had been taken over by the state of Massachusetts in 2011. These students flourished, in part, due to small-group instruction, the study found.