Hempstead High School launched earlier this summer a new program for incoming freshmen designed to curb its dropout rate and inspire students making the jump to high school.
With an 84 percent participation rate among its 440 soon-to-be ninth-graders, administrators are calling "The Summer Bridge Program" a success, particularly since it was not mandatory. They say the high turnout reflects a strong buy-in from parents and students.
"We know that there are some significant skill gaps in our incoming freshmen class and we wanted an opportunity to get a head start," Principal Stephen Strachan said. "I am extremely encouraged by the support of the parents and the participation of the students."
Administrators hope it will not only boost student achievement but show the state it is sincere in its effort to improve after the high school was categorized as "persistently struggling" for failing to meet state and federal standards for more than a decade. The school is one of two in the district that were placed in receivership. It must submit a remediation plan and has a year to improve or be taken over by outside managers.
The law gives the superintendent broad authority to make significant changes in staffing and curriculum without school board approval, once the state approves the plan.
Strachan said the bridge program "is what the state is talking about; extending the school year for students who are historically underachieving. This is huge for us to be able to work with our students -- this many students -- in the summer before the regular school year."
Hempstead High had a 43 percent graduation rate in 2014, up from 38 percent the year before. The five-week Summer Bridge Program, which ran Monday through Thursday and ended Aug. 6, gave students a chance to earn 2.5 of the 22 credits they need to graduate, a sizable head start, according to 14-year-old Junior Adegoke.
"I learned a lot," he said, sitting in the school's media center. "It was a good use of my time." Junior's mother, Paulita Adegoke, said the program gave her son a greater sense of what to expect at the high school level.
Strachan said freshmen who arrive in September without such preparation are often overwhelmed. But with 370 kids spending much of the summer on campus, the transition should be smoother.
"Kids are better positioned to be successful, which will hopefully reduce the potential for dropouts and academic course failures," Strachan said.
He said familiarity with the building and staff will help kids feel more at ease. Lissette Mateo, 14, said she already feels more confident about moving on to high school after completing the program.
"I know where everything is now," she said.
Ninth grade is particularly important to a child's academic success, Strachan said.
"If you are not earning all of your credits in ninth grade and then you get into 10th grade and you're behind, it looks impossible, so you begin to show attendance issues and behavior issues -- and it's hard to recoup," he said.
Marlen Manzanares, 14, said it's given her a chance to improve her math skills, learning new methods to help solve problems that stumped her in years past.
"My other teacher didn't explain it as well," said Marlen, who wants to work as a nurse.The Summer Bridge Program, paid for through the district's summer school allocation, was designed to appeal to all students, from high achievers to those struggling to keep up. While most children participated in English Language Arts courses and algebra -- alongside dance and swimming -- some were challenged further.
D'Avion Tatum, 14, joined 20 Hempstead students in the program's Zion STEM program, traveling each day to Farmingdale State College to build a remote-controlled vehicle submerged in Hampton Bays.
An honors student who wants to become a marine biologist -- "I'm a science person," she said -- she loved calculating its buoyancy and fitting it with a motor and camera.
"I really liked it," she said.