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Schools Learning to Work Together : Education: Students in summer enrichment programs are the winners as barriers between public, private 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.

In Orange County, many posh private schools open their doors to the public during the summer, but most charge some tuition for their camp and school programs.

Administrators see the summer sessions as a way to pick up some extra income, expose a wider audience to their campuses and perhaps pump up interest in the schools. Plus, they said, it provides the community with top-notch educational activities at prices more affordable than a full year at a private school.

"It's just a great opportunity for kids who don't want to take the summer off to lie on the beach, surf or skateboard. Instead, they get ahead," said Sidney DuPont, headmaster at Harbor Day in Corona del Mar.

Harbor Day's summer session, which started in 1990, is a joint program with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth. Fifth- and sixth-graders--about half from public schools--pay $650 for the four-week session, which has classes in the morning, group projects in the afternoon.

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