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Public and Private Schools Learning to Work Together : Education: Students in summer enrichment programs are the winners as barriers between two worlds fall.

August 30, 1994|JEAN MERL | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

The midsummer mugginess invading the Polytechnic School in Pasadena couldn't wilt the moment of academic triumph occurring in Room 26. After weeks of science experiments, Gilbert Holguin and Brian Thorne, both 10, had just become the first pair to devise a system for getting their homemade ice cream mixture to freeze.

On the Westside, 12-year-olds Christina McNeil and Maveli Quijapa spent their summer days discussing literature and honing their math skills at Brentwood School, like Poly one of the area's priciest, most prestigious private schools.

But tuition and waiting lists did not concern these youngsters, whose summer at the top tier of education in Los Angeles came at no cost to their families. In September, the students will be back in their regular public school classrooms, probably unaware of the roles they played in a new chapter of education history.

The summer programs are examples of the growing collaboration between private and public schools. All but unheard of a decade ago, the phenomenon reflects the recent blurring of the boundaries dividing the two worlds in the face of growing pressure to improve American schools.

"This is a substantial trend," said Greg Kubiak of the Council for American Private Education, an umbrella organization whose members include most of the nation's private non-sectarian and parochial school groups. "There is a recognition that, in their need to respond to their communities and families, both sides can learn from each other."

At Polytechnic and Brentwood, selected public school students, typically very bright but not reaching their potential, get a weeks-long taste of powerhouse academics and individual attention. The students' regular teachers make the selections and help with school-year follow-up activities aimed at cementing the summer's gains in skills, motivation and self-esteem.

"This is a good thing to help me get a better education," Christina said, explaining why she gave up some of her summer to crack the books as never before. "The math is fun. It's my favorite subject. The hardest is humanities--it's a lot of work."

Peter D. Relic, president of the National Assn. of Independent Schools and a former public school superintendent, said that while pairings of private and public schools have been around for a long time, the practice has begun to grow rapidly and taken on the look of a true partnership. Many of the public-private collaborations are generated by independent schools, self-governed campuses that emphasize rigorous academics and individual attention.

"These are not paternalistic relationships," said Relic, whose organization is working with the U.S. Department of Education to compile information on the numbers and kinds of collaborations.

The partnerships range from sharing teachers to exchanging curriculum or staff development programs and teaming up to seek private foundation funding for projects.

In Philadelphia, for example, the private Springside School for girls teamed up with the public All-Girls High School for a research project on single-sex education. A South Boston public school principal found several boarding schools willing to take promising but underprepared high school graduates and provide them with a year's worth of college preparation. And since 1990, the public Barclay Elementary School in Baltimore has worked with the private Calvert School nearby, developing curriculum and home study packets and exchanging teachers.

Many of the partnerships, however, take the form of summer enrichment sessions on private campuses, usually carefully coordinated with the participating students' public school district. Between 200 and 300 such programs were operating throughout the country in 1991, an independent school expert estimated.

Polytechnic School began its tuition-free Skills Enrichment Program with the Pasadena Unified School District and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth in 1990. Last summer, two other Pasadena private schools, Chandler and Westridge, joined the program. In classes held at the three campuses, about 150 elementary students got an intensive five weeks of academics, arts and athletics. The intimate atmosphere created by small classes and individual attention is aimed at giving promising youngsters a boost that will motivate them to aim high throughout their schooling.

Pasadena district officials provide some of the faculty, coordinate school-year follow-up activities and contribute some of the money they receive from the state for each child in summer school. Much of the $190,000 program cost, however, is borne by the three host independent schools, which provide facilities and raise money.

Kristen McGregor, a fifth-grade teacher at Thomas Jefferson Elementary during the regular school year who conducts math classes at Poly during the summer program, said she has seen real growth in the students. "Seeing how far these kids can go, seeing them soar has made me a much stronger teacher," McGregor said.

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