Summer school pays big for students

Debit cards were given to 3,637 students for good attendance.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:54 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

As thousands of kids and parents cram into stores for back-to-school shopping, many will be using a new piece of plastic: the Newton Learning debit card.

Newton Learning awarded Visa debit cards to 3,637 students at the end of Newton Summer Adventure, Columbia Public School’s free summer school program. The debit cards were given to students as an incentive for attendance during the five-week summer session.

Last summer, debit cards were given to about 3,884 students, or 71 percent of the students enrolled. This year, 76 percent of students received a debit card.

Of the 4,745 kindergarten through high school students who participated in the program, nearly half — about 2,267 — had a perfect attendance record and were rewarded with the top prize, a $100 debit card. The $75 prize, for up to seven hours missed, was awarded to 943 students, and 427 earned the $50 prize for missing up to 14 hours.

This summer, students had the option of donating their attendance incentive to the Ronald McDonald House, but only three students did so. Cheryl Cozette, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the district has not decided whether the donation option will be continued.

In addition to debit cards, each summer school building had its own incentive program that was customized to fit the needs of students in that school. Students could win special prizes in daily drawings and raffles or for good behavior.

Final enrollment in Newton Summer Adventure was down slightly this summer — 4,745 students compared to last summer’s 5,470. About 5,668 students were originally enrolled in Newton this summer, but 923 dropped out during the session.

Cozette said many students chose not to participate this year or dropped out because of conflicting summer activities.

“Students have a lot of other activities in the summertime that they can participate in,” she said. “Some kids enroll knowing they’re going to go to summer camp or do other things.”

The school district pays a fee of $600 for each full-time student to Newton Learning, a private summer school provider based in New York City. In return, the district receives additional funding from the state for summer student attendance. The Newton program brought in a profit of more than $2 million to the district last summer.

Data from this summer’s Newton program, including enrollment numbers and testing results, will be presented to the school board in the fall, although the exact date has not been set. Cozette said the board will likely discuss the Newton contract and any possible changes to the program next spring.

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