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Numbers reveal Math Academy's success

The English language has many two-word combinations that strike fear and loathing in just about anyone. "Root canal" springs to mind, as do "blown transmission," "sewer backup" and "prostate exam." (OK, that one hits only the male half of the population, but colonoscopy is only one word.)

For the average teenager, however, we suspect that "summer school" would rank at or near the top of any list of dreaded phrases. To a 14-year-old, summer is for sleeping in and hanging out at the pool with friends, not studying the quadratic equation.

So we note with some amazement that more than 300 high school students, most of them incoming freshmen, are spending four hours per day attending summer Math Academy at John Marshall, Century and Mayo high schools.

The idea, of course, is perfectly sound. Taking a three-month break from learning can put some rust on the brains of even the best students, but to many kids, that 13-week layoff can lead to serious problems after Labor Day. In a subject like math, which builds constantly upon previous principles, students who start out slightly behind will not only struggle to catch up, but they'll consume much of the teachers' valuable time in the process.

But anyone who's ever taken a summer class in college knows that it can be tough to show up every day, let alone stay focused when the days are warm and languid. That further complicates the teachers' already-difficult task of keeping students interested

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So we commend the administrators, teachers, students and especially the parents who are helping to make the Math Academy such an obvious success. We suspect that many moms and dads have to do a lot of convincing to get their kids to attend, and there's no doubt that summer school can be four weeks of inconvenience for families.

Yet enrollment is up considerably in the program's second year, and last year's "graduates," despite being identified as "at-risk," did surprisingly well in their freshman math classes.

The proof is in the pudding, of course, so we're eager to see this program's impact on 11th-grade test scores, which won't be known until  the end of the 2012-13 school year; however, even if scores don't increase dramatically, we still will strongly endorse the summer academy's continuation. It gives incoming freshmen a head start on what can be a very difficult year, both academically and socially, and if they feel more confident during their first few weeks of high school, we're convinced that their chances of success will increase dramatically. 

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