Ted Shaffner thinks that summer school gets a bad rap.
The Summer Session Director believes The Hun School can change that perception.
“My goal from the beginning was to do the kind of learning that will definitely help them in their skills but will also make them prefer to go to summer school than to the pool,” said Mr. Shaffner, who has been director for four years. “The big vision goal was to make them look forward to summer school rather than dread it.”
Learning does sound fun at Summer Session. A recent science class at Hun made solar ovens to toast s’mores. Biology class dissected sardines without formaldehyde. A middle school science class challenges students to build the strongest bridge out of just paper.
“The winning bridge that first year was able to hold eleven physics textbooks on it,” said Mr. Shaffner. “It’s amazing. They surprise themselves.”
Summer Session numbers have been on the rise at Hun, which starts a chicken and egg dilemma. Is interest increasing because of more offerings, or are there more offerings because of increased interest? When Mr. Shaffner and Mark Harrison, the director of summer and auxiliary programs, started there were four credit courses offered. There are nine now.
“We’ve seen a demand for all of our new courses, which are predominantly honors courses,” said Mr. Harrison. “We end up generating a much stronger community, and we’re able to hire more teachers and are able to serve more students.”
What have attracted students are courses that they can use to accelerate their education, all taught by a dedicated and consistent teaching staff. A diverse assortment of motivated students from area schools are signing up for courses in Summer Session that offer course credit or prepare for a placement test that would allow them to test out of a course for the following school year.
“We had a geometry credit course that first year that I started that had five students in it,” said Mr. Shaffner. “Now we have three sections of geometry, two of geometry honors. And the same thing with Algebra 2. Our credit courses basically have tripled from that time and we've also added a lot of enrichment electives recently and we've had a really good time with that.
“The culture of the faculty is one thing that we’ve dedicated ourselves to,” he added. “We look for people who are really passionate about their subject, but also working with kids. We really see this as an opportunity to experiment with our craft. Two-hour classes every day just allows for all sorts of new styles of learning and so we've really encouraged and embraced that.”
The Summer Session made a change in its design last year by going from one six-week session to two three-week sessions. The split has provided more flexibility with summer classes. Credit courses go the full six weeks while enrichment courses are offered in three-week stretches.
“Now credit courses are four hours a day, you’re done at 12:20 instead being done at 2:00,” said Mr. Harrison. “The three-week option to take an enrichment course is really good for families because they can go on vacation and not worry about missing class. It’s a smaller financial commitment but there’s more volume. And because classes are two hours long, they can sign up for three classes instead of two. We make it really convenient for families.”
Registration for classes for students ages ten to eighteen opens annually January 1st and classes usually are relatively full by March. Courses come with a snack, and students can pack or sign up to eat lunch in the Hun cafeteria.
Approximately 2,000 students visit The Hun School campus each summer. Eight hundred of them are part of Hun-organized camps or sessions, and another 1,200 are run by outside organizations using Hun facilities. This year almost 300 students are enrolled in Summer Session, and Hun sees that number rising as they consider offering more courses and even expanding to younger age groups. Hun is working to offer even more next summer. A new Hun Adventures curriculum is in the planning process that would offer shorter one- to three-week courses in STEM, arts, humanities, and business.
“One of the reasons we’re thinking about new options is we have some students who have come three or four years, and they're mostly rising ninth graders and they’ve exhausted our middle school options and so they're ready for credit.” said Mr. Shaffner. “So that’s why we feel like we have to invent new things for them. We do get a lot of kids coming back.”
Hun will have one such repeat student in Alex Marinzoli ’24. The rising eighth grader tried the Summer Session for the first time and took courses in Algebra, Creative Writing, and Public Speaking and Debate. Alex liked the pace and content of the courses.
“All of these classes were an experiment for us to see if he would enjoy being in school (8:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.) during the summer – and he does!” wrote Alex’s father, A. Roger Marinzoli, in an email to Mr. Harrison and Mr. Shaffner. “He still had time for his non-academic camp exposures this summer, but his high level of interest, positive attitude and learning in a relaxed manner with Hun Summer School is a testament to all of your work in designing and executing a great summer school program.”