The summer heat filled Melody Jefferson's geometry class. Her 16 summer school students, most dressed in shorts, T-shirts and sleeveless blouses, fanned themselves and yawned intermittently as she covered the blackboard with right angles and equations.
The three windows in the back of the classroom were stretched wide, but the lazy breeze brought little relief.
Most of these 10th graders are spending their summer mornings at Paul Junior High School in upper Northwest because they failed geometry during the regular school year. They failed because the work was too difficult, or they did not come to school because of a job, a baby to care for, or a teacher who seemed impatient.
Gina Wolitzky, 14, said she failed because she "couldn't get out of bed on time" for her first-period class. She is doing "A" work now.
Jefferson and her class are among 13,283 students and 733 teachers at 39 elementary, junior and senior high schools for this year's traditional summer school program. The students are restudying math, English, history, Spanish, government, science and physical education.
Teachers cram a semester's worth of work into the six weeks of classes that are held from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Another 4,609 youths are enrolled in special enrichment programs such as computer training, gourmet cooking and orchestra instruction. The total summer school program costs an estimated $2.7 million.
About 8:25 a.m., clusters of students slowly make their way up a slight hillside to Paul's entrance at Eighth and Oglethorpe streets NW. Some take shortcuts across the hilly lawn, a green blanket with splotches of brown.
Some students are happy for a second chance to erase a failing grade. Some begrudge every day. "I hate it," said Ricardo Dyson, 18, of summer school. Dyson is taking Spanish.
He has shortened his "sentence" by missing the maximum number of days allowed, he said. "You get three days, you take three days," he said.
Jefferson said she warns her students about missing class. One day in summer school, she tells her class, equals one week of regular school. "I don't give makeup work," Jefferson said, "because summer school is makeup work."
Tanika Thomas, 17, said she appreciates her second chance. "I made a mistake last year," she said, "but I'm correcting it. I plan to go all the way now." Thomas, who will be a senior at Calvin Coolidge High School in the fall, hopes to study computer technology at Georgetown University.
Gerald Byrd, the summer school principal at Paul, said cutting class is the major reason that students fail classes. "We have a lot of kids who are here simply because of attendance problems," and they resign themselves to doing makeup work during the summer, he said.
Byrd suggests charging students to attend summer school. "Students would become more serious," he said, "and parents would make sure their kids come [to school] on time."
Andrew Hayes, who has taught history and government for 25 years, agreed. Charging students would "make students and parents more accountable," he said.
Nearby Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland and Fairfax County in Virginia charge for summer school.
James Guines, assistant superintendent of the Office of Instruction, said summer classes should remain free of charge. "For us in the District , that would deny a large number of young people a full educational experience." He said it is unfair to ask people to "choose between paying $150 to go to school and paying $150 to buy shoes or put food on the table."
In Room 308 at Paul, Andrew Fowler slowly paced through the rows of desks as 26 students took an English quiz.
They were to list the singular possessive, plural and plural possessive forms of 15 nouns. Several students in the rear rows whispered and peeped at one another's answers as Fowler made his way to the front of the class.
Fowler had left instructions on the blackboard on how to convert the nouns, but many of the students got several answers wrong.
"He don't really explain things," said Andrea Palmer, 16, after the class. "He's too fast. Sometimes we have five lessons in one day."
Most of his students can handle the work, "but they have too many other things on their minds," he said. One of the major distractions, he said, is the Summer Youth Employment Program.
About 10 percent of the 705 summer students at Paul work in the program. They come to school at 8 a.m., sit in a study hall then leave class at noon. Citywide about 25 percent of the 23,000 summer youth participants attend summer school, according to school officials.
"Some of the kids who leave class early [to go to their summer jobs] are the very ones who need to stay the longest," Fowler said.
Jefferson, who has a similar complaint said that she "can't build my lessons around kids who have to leave early." Repeaters, she said, "need to be in class as long as possible."
Byrd said, "I don't think it's a distraction [to the summer school program], but I think the summer jobs people need to work their schedules around our schedule. I'd prefer them [the youths] to start work later in the afternoon so they wouldn't have to leave early."
Jaicia Jenkins, 15, who is studying Spanish, has mixed feelings about her summer education. "It's harder here because of the heat and stuff," she said, "but it's easier because you have more time in the classroom."