Pay Now — Or Pay Later – paying summer students

Pay Now — Or Pay Later – paying summer students – Brief Article

Karen Ann Gajewski

Will paying students to attend summer school save taxpayers in the long run? This is a question under debate by educators and citizens over a controversial pilot program designed for select students in an effort to improve their academic performance. The program, funded by a federal grant, is being tested this summer at the Burgard Vocational High School in Buffalo, New York.

Ninety incoming freshmen–most of them from families below the poverty level–will be paid five dollars an hour to attend summer school. As school will run fifteen hours a week for five weeks, participants will be paid $75 a week or $375 for the full program–costing the district a total of $33,750 for the summer.

Although students have long been paid to participate in summer jobs programs, some internships, and to tutor younger pupils in urban school districts, paying them to attend summer school is definitely experimental and has incited significant discussion.

Michael Casserly, executive director of Buffalo’s Council of the Great City Schools, believes that “if it gets kids into the classroom, terrific.” Young people at this age, and their families, often regard a paying summer job as more attractive, or more necessary, than unpaid summer school.

David Hess, Buffalo’s assistant superintendent for secondary, adult, and continuing education, argues, “If we can convince these students to go to summer school, we can improve their academic performance and help them be successful.”

Central District board member Jan Peters says she favors the stipends because they would be financed by a federal grant. “Given the mix of classroom work, site visits, and hands-on experience, I think it makes sense,” she said. “But I would not use district funds to do it.”

However, James P. Mazgajewski, who has served as superintendent of one of Buffalo’s suburban school districts for nineteen years has mixed feelings. He says the real test will be whether participants go on to do well in high school. “If you’re giving them a carrot and it turns them on to the program, fine,” he said. “But if all they get out of it is the carrot, then it didn’t work.”

With all the national debate over the quality of education offered by public schools and repercussions to those which don’t improve their records, Burgard is an excellent site for the pilot program. In recent years, the school has suffered academically. Almost all of its incoming freshmen have failed either an eighth-grade math assessment test or an eighth-grade English assessment test–or both. And the school has awarded no Regents diplomas in three years.

Starting high school with such severe academic deficiencies handicaps students for future success both within the classroom and beyond in the real world. In addition to limiting their choices for further education and the workforce, it severely impacts self-esteem and self-respect. Feelings of failure then permeate all aspects of their lives.

In this light, then, it makes sense to spend the few dollars now to produce citizens who will be more likely to contribute positively in the future to the needs of society–be it through their knowledge, training, or tax dollars. It certainly will reap financial benefits if it makes them participating members of, instead of a drain on, that society.

Karen Ann Gajewski is the art director and an editor of the Humanist.

COPYRIGHT 2001 American Humanist Association

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group