BY JONATHAN HORN
ContributorSummer and school are two words that don’t normally mix.
But it is something to look forward to for about 100 junior high students spending their days at La Jolla High School for the San Diego Summerbridge program. Instead of the normal routine, college students and recent graduates are now the teachers. With a rigorous but friendly environment, the program prides itself on motivating students to succeed in all classrooms.
“I was excited, I mean, once school ended, I got Summerbridge to look forward to,” said Isaac Ramos, 14, a Gompers Charter Middle School student participating for the third straight year.
The program began in 1993 as a way to give students a head start for their upcoming fall curriculum.
“The fifth-graders learn sixth-grade concepts, the sixth-graders learn seventh-grade concepts, so it just bridges them for the next school year,” said fourth-year program director Conrado Castro, a counselor at Gompers during the main academic term.
Welcoming touchOn the first day, students were treated to a welcome ceremony in La Jolla High’s Parker Auditorium in which each teacher dressed in full costume. Mike Thompson, a La Jolla High alum, sported a Brazilian soccer jersey, while Raymundo Quezada came wearing boxing gloves and a robe.
“It’s a fine line between fun and really being academic, and that’s the hardest thing for our teachers but they do it,” said founder Zeke Knight, formerly a teacher and coach at Bishops.
Summerbridge recruits mainly from inner-city elementary schools. Students, for whom the program is free, need a recommendation from their fourth grade teacher and principal.
“These are at-risk students only because the teachers feel that they eventually might fall through the cracks,” Knight said. “But they have the potential. So it’s up to us to ignite the potential.”
More than summerThe program requires more than just one summer of work. It entails going through the curriculum two straight years, and, during the academic term, spending four to six hours per week in tutoring.
“This doesn’t work in a vacuum,” Knight said. “We need the commitment of the parents, the teachers and the schools.”
Ramos, now going into his sophomore year of high school, won the election for class president last year. He said he credits Summerbridge for much of his success, mainly in his improved public speaking.
“It would have been a lot harder because I probably would have been more nervous, I probably would have stuttered a lot,” Ramos said.
But Knight, the program’s founder, said a lot of students who go through Summerbridge find similar success.
“Most of these kids go back to these schools and become leaders in these schools,” he said.
Ramos, who will seek a second-term as president this year, is an example.
“I’m going to be the incumbent,” he said, looking ahead to the elections. “I’m going to run again and see how that goes.”