Students who may have fallen through the cracks during the regular school year - because of large class sizes and multiple demands on teachers - have an opportunity to shine in special summer school classes at Bryant Intermediate School.
And although the emphasis is on succeeding, some youngsters also are given the privilege of failing, said Mary Morris, facilitator for the Salt Lake District summer program for at-risk youngsters."Sometimes we give them too many safety nets. We teach them irresponsibility by not demanding they meet a standard. We do them a service by setting a bottom line for them, because the real world does that," said Morris.
Sometimes recognizing and addressing failure allows a student to start over again and rectify past behaviors, instead of sweeping them under the rug.
Few adults put themselves repeatedly into situations in which they know they will fail, she noted, but children often are forced into school settings that don't meet their individual needs and put impossible requirements on some of them.
That's why the summer programs for students from Bryant, Clayton and Hillside schools set some inflexible standards. Students must attend 80 percent of their classes or leave the program.
At the same time, there is positive reinforcement for good behavior. A Student of the Week receives a certificate and a pass to 49th Street Galleria. At the end of the course, there is congratulatory commencement hoopla that includes "Pomp and Circumstance" and certificates for those who successfully complete the summer program, Morris said.
The 100 students targeted for the program are considered to be at risk of not completing school. They are youngsters whose families are very mobile, who have been suspended, have high absenteeism, alienation, academic problems, difficulty interacting with other students or teachers, or who lack motivation.
Some of the involved schools make success in the summer program requisite for progression in school, Morris said.
Smaller classes _ usually not more than one teacher to 15 students _ provide what many of the children have missed in regular classes, "a significant adult relationship," she said. "Many of these kids don't feel that they're part of the school. In large classes, they can quietly sit on the back row and fail. In smaller classes, they can't be ignored. Each one is called on to participate in every class."
The teachers who pass up their summer break to participate in the at-risk program are those "who want to be here," Morris said. They are selected purposely for qualities that make them sympathetic to the special needs of kids at risk and a desire to help them.
Parents are contacted regularly, whether the child is doing well or poorly _ something that surprises some parents who are used to hearing only bad reports about their students, she said.
The summer classes help some students to catch up academically, using special techniques such as a Utah-developed writing program. But the young teens also focus on non-academic attributes they need to remain in school and succeed.
In a self-esteem class, they work on such items as goal-setting, problem-solving and communication. "We need to teach them life survival skills, along with academics, Morris said.
The youngsters contribute to a book titled "Teens' Opinions Matter," which allows them to express their thoughts on a wide range of issues that are pertinent in their lives.
Some of the responses are clues to the problems that put these children at risk of failure in school _ and sometimes in life.
Asked, "If you could give your parents one tip on how to be a better parent, what would you tell them?" students wrote such things as:
_ "Buy a house and settle down so I don't have to lose so many neat, nice and kind friends."
_ "To get a day job so they could be home with us at night."
_ "Talk to me more about the problems I have. Spend more time with your kid."
Morris said the concepts of the summer program are in operation all year at Bryant. The administration and teachers have supported a "school within a school" that allows students at risk to be in smaller classes and receive the types of special support that offset roadblocks to education.
Teaching at-risk children is like Christmas all year round, Morris said. "You can't always tell by the wrapping what's inside. It's the most satisfying thing I've done in education."