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Growing Number Of Online Summer School Classes A Blessing

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) _ When Scott Landry flunked a math class in his Townsend high school this year, he was told he would not make it into the 10th grade unless he went to summer school.

So how was the 14-year-old starting his third week of a summer algebra class?

``I'm going skateboarding and hanging out with my friends,'' he said.

With a growing number of schools around the country allowing students to take classes and make-up credits online, summer school's punitive reputation is slipping. And more students are finding they need not miss out on summer camp, vacation or jobs.

For Scott, algebra would wait until about 8 p.m., when he was done playing and ready to log on to his computer.

``You have all day to do one assignment,'' he said. ``And if you're really busy one day, you can work on stuff the next day.''

Students taking classes online can submit their assignments in e-mails, ``talk'' to teachers through instant messages, and interact with other students in online discussion groups.

Some students and parents say online classes make learning easier.

``These online classes have been a blessing,'' said Carol Meerschaert, whose 16-year-old daughter, Claire, has an attention deficit disorder. The disorder kept Claire from passing English in her sophomore year at Fallon High School in Falmouth, Maine.

``She's smart, but her grades weren't showing it,'' Meerschaert said. ``Now, if she needs to reread something or come back to it when she's ready, she can. And she's getting better grades.''

With only about 90 minutes of online class time needed each day, Claire is spending her summer vacation the way she wants. ``I get up, do the work, then have time with my friends,'' she said.

Claire and Scott are both taking their courses this summer through the Maynard, Mass.-based Virtual High School, one of about 25 organizations offering online courses.

``Kids are already so used to using the internet that this is an easy way for them to learn,'' said Susan Patrick, president of the North American Council for Online Learning, based in Tysons Corner, Va.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, one-third _ or about 6,000 _ of the country's public school districts give credit for online classes.

Some teens are taking the courses because they want to get extra credit or take courses their traditional schools do not offer. But a growing number are turning to online learning for summer school classes.

There are no statistics on how many of the estimated 700,000 students now taking online courses do so for summer credits, but Patrick guesses the number is around 100,000.

``Online classes were primarily targeted to students taking electives in addition to regular academic programs,'' said Timothy Magner, the DOE's director of educational technology. ``But there's an increase in the number of students who are taking them for core courses or credit recovery.''

About 25 states have developed their own Internet-based curriculums, while others use the courses created by companies such as Virtual High School, Magner said. Whether courses are paid for by a school or a student's family varies from district to district.

Liz Pape, chief executive of Virtual High School, said her decade-old organization began offering summer courses in 2003 when she noticed more schools cutting back on their summer school programs.

``We stepped in and said OK, we can work with these schools to help them out,'' she said.

The University of Miami Online High School started offering summer school classes two years ago, said Howard Liebman, the school's president of academic operations.

``We also started seeing a lot of parents and students who are freaking out because the kids need to make up courses that aren't being offered in traditional summer schools,'' he said.

Christopher Steeves Jr. ended his sophomore year at Indian River High School in Chesapeake, Va., in need of more math credits. He wanted to take an honors-level algebra class but his school was not offering it this summer. So he signed up for an online class through the University of Miami Online High School.

The time he spent every day taking the class did not stop him from visiting his mother in Colorado for three weeks of hiking and whitewater rafting.

``I did the coursework while I was out there,'' he said.
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