Summer school.

For most, the term smacks of trouble. The goal of summer school has traditionally been to get failing or underperforming students back through the school doors for several weeks to retrieve necessary class credits.

It’s a time-honored means to help get kids to the graduation finish line. At Walla Walla High School, students have taken more than 400 courses this summer in subjects such as U.S. history, math, language arts and P.E., noted Principal Ron Higgins.

“It’s for the, ‘I stubbed my toe during the school year’ student,” he said. “And trying to figure out which pieces did you not ‘get’ in class.”

Such course correction can save a student from the “super senior” fifth year or dropping out altogether, he added.

In many school districts, summertime classes also present a chance to get ahead academically or try something new, and that concept came to Walla Walla High School this summer.

Between the June and July sessions, students had the opportunity to choose from a number of classes meant for acceleration rather than remediation, Higgins said.

“That’s a different conversation than traditional summer school students,” he said. “Those taking new credits are all very motivated. They want that time to try something that’s free.”

For example, more than 50 incoming ninth-graders took a high school health class that was offered at Southeast Area Technical Skills Center — SEATech — on the Walla Walla Community College campus, Higgins said.

“And now they have room in their schedules for new ideas.”

The earned schedule flexibility will become more important as Washington state’s minimum core credit requirements go from 20 to 24 for the class of 2019 and beyond.

That’s a game changer for plenty of Walla Walla students, the principal pointed out.

“It’s that kind of reality,” he said. “Some kids want that part-time job in the afternoon, but you can’t do five credits a year to get those 24 credits any more. At six (credits) per year, that’s right on the line with no wiggle room.”

Taking core classes in summer can open doors during the school year, Higgins pointed out.

Take SEATech. The vocational skills program has a robust menu of video and audio productions, criminal justice classes, health science career pathways, advanced manufacturing and welding technology and construction technology classes. Those are becoming more appealing to more high school students, he said.

Nonetheless, SEATech time equals half a day those teens are not at Wa-Hi and not taking the core classes needed for timely graduation, Higgins said.

This summer’s new credit offerings included language, drawing, painting, social studies and graphic arts classes, but no new math or science credits. This was a kind of a “toe in the water” time of testing what students would be willing to sign up for, he explained.

The two-week summer sessions lasted 12 days apiece, for five hours each day. Among those unfamiliar with summer school came the dawning of realization, Higgins said.

“I think there was the idea that: ‘Gosh. In 12 days you can get a semester of credit for a class.’”

Superintendent Wade Smith said the summer acceleration classes are a “borrow” from higher education, where colleges create summertime experiences for incoming freshman, It’s a chance to develop a confidence about their new school, he said.

“This might also be a great way for middle school kids to transition up,” he said. “When they hit that campus the first day of school, they’re feeling a lot more comfortable, a lot more engaged.”

Smith said the district has experimented with some evening classes to offer credit options outside the traditional school day and is considering the same model for the holiday break.

“We’re really trying to explore some new ways around this,” he said of the state’s increased credits requirement.

“I would assume you will see expansion of the program next summer.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.