The academic year had ended weeks before, but at The Windsor School on Flushing’s busy Main Street, more than 200 students from Long Island were back at the books in July for intensive instruction inside small, air-conditioned classrooms.
A group of six students from the Jericho district traveled to the private school in Queens via door-to-door car service, leaving about 6:30 a.m. and splitting the $140 daily round-trip fare. Others from Jericho and as far east as Smithtown took the Long Island Rail Road, a bus service or carpooled with their parents.
Each class was three hours long, with short breaks for table tennis or snacks. Some students made it a full day, with back-to-back instruction in more than one course.
For them, the trek and classwork were worth the opportunity to complete Regents coursework that usually requires a full academic year and take the corresponding exam or exams. All in six weeks.
The concentrated summer instruction is one more way some students on the Island are powering ahead of the education curve by completing required courses earlier — which both accelerates their learning and bolsters their resumes before heavy-duty competition to get into college.
Some of those in The Windsor School’s programs, for example, took the course credits and were able to place into the next, more challenging offerings in their home schools when the 2017-18 year kicked off.
The phenomenon is an extension of what is occurring during the school year in many Long Island districts: More students are taking Regents courses earlier, sometimes as soon as seventh grade. Local districts also are encouraging ever-younger students to take science and math courses beyond their grade level.
Sophomore Andrew Kwon, 15, was among Jericho students who went to The Windsor School summer program. He took the Algebra II Regents course.
What schools “expect you to do, that’s kind of like your average — ‘This is good enough,’ ” Kwon said. “If the school just tells you what to do and you do exactly what they say, that won’t show exactly what kind of person you are. If you’re taking that standard and going beyond it, it will be a better viewpoint that colleges will see you in.”
Jennifer Bae, Kwon’s mother, said she wanted to “give all kinds of opportunities” to him.
“Competition is fierce,” she said. “It’s getting harder and harder, so students and parents try everything to show that the students are capable or very outstanding.”
However, administrators in some districts, including those with track records of high academic achievement, expressed worry about the outside instruction and its compressed time frame. Students are better served, they said, taking the courses in their home district during the school year.
Helene Kriegstein, the Jericho district’s mathematics curriculum associate, said she is concerned about the trend toward summer acceleration. About 90 students from the high school and middle school were enrolled in The Windsor School’s summer program, district officials said.
“We’re not about racing through the curriculum in Jericho,” she said.
State education law requires districts to accept credit for outside instruction if a student follows the state’s guidelines for summer school. Generally, districts must accept credit for a Regents course given at a state-registered public or nonpublic high school if students sit for 90 hours of instruction and score at least an 85 on the corresponding Regents exam.
Some districts, such as Jericho and Great Neck, have responded by requiring students to get administrators’ approval before enrolling in accelerated courses. The Manhasset district mandates that students receive a 95 for a Regents class and on the exam to advance to the next course’s honors level.
“Parents are looking to do what they think is best for their children. In some cases, it works out well,” said Stephen Lando, assistant superintendent for secondary education in the Great Neck system.
“Each learner is different, and some learners do not retain things as well in that compact or compressed format, while other learners just drink it in. It really varies by student,” Lando said. “For others, it’s simply a place to get someplace sooner, and they don’t necessarily develop that deeper understanding we hope they would get.”
James DeFeo, principal of The Windsor School, said about 80 percent of 275 students who took the six-week summer program were from Long Island, with representation from 15 districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The fee was $765 per course for the session.
“This is the full New York State Regents course of study. So, what a student will learn from September to June is exactly what a student will learn from July 5 to Aug. 15,” DeFeo said. “For somebody to say, ‘Well, you can’t learn in six weeks what you learn over 180 days,’ we disagree with, because this is straight teaching for three hours a day, whereas during a regular school year, there is a lot more down time; classes are a shorter period of time. This is just absolute, straight, 90 hours of instruction.”
Kriegstein, however, said she worries that students will have a tough time with more advanced courses “if they don’t have the foundation.”
“Our preparation for the Regents is really considered the floor and not the ceiling,” she said. Some students who take summer courses end up retaking them during the school year because they felt “in over their head” upon advancing to the next level.
Schools chiefs in the Herricks and Garden City districts had a dim view of the concentrated nature of summer Regents coursework.
“It’s not a healthy thing for kids to be racing through the curriculum to take these six-week classes,” Herricks Superintendent Fino Celano said. “In my view, summer programs are more for a reteaching, a relearning . . . I don’t see that a six-week class that is typically taught over the course of a year would be equal in its rigor and value.”
Alan Groveman, interim superintendent of the Garden City system, pointed in particular to difficulties inherent in students’ absorption of mathematical concepts.
“Teaching to the test eliminated a lot of the ancillary math concepts that are so useful in learning higher math, so if you are limited in seat instruction, you are not going to be able to bring in all those useful concepts,” he said.
Regents courses during the summer are not confined to The Windsor School’s offerings.
The Lawrence school district, for the first time, offered the Algebra I Regents course this past summer. The system is working to better its graduation rate, which was 76.4 percent in 2016, the most recent state figures available.
Superintendent Ann Pedersen said the program also worked to “demystify the high school” for the students.
Syed Bukhari, 13, now an eighth-grader, was among 16 middle school students who took the course, offered four days a week over six weeks.
“It was really hard to focus since there were 4.5 math hours,” she said.
Her instructor encouraged the students to work together during class exercises, and Bukhari’s older sister helped her out, too. “She helped guide me through it, which is why it started to get easier again,” Bukhari said.
Jericho’s Kwon, after completing the Algebra II Regents in Windsor’s program, decided to take the course during the regular school year.
He did a “great job” on the Regents exam, Bae said, but did not make the score they had agreed was needed to advance to pre-calculus at Jericho. In addition, she noted, the concepts covered in Algebra II will feature prominently on the SAT college admissions exam and SAT II subject test.
“He feels it was not futile at all,” Bae said of her son’s coursework at Windsor. “This summer experience helped him build the topic really strong.”