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Not all students are taking the summer off.

Seventy students who will be high-school freshmen in Billings Public Schools this fall are spending six weeks of their summer at the Lincoln Education Center in a mandatory program called Bridges. The boot camp, which runs June 18 to July 26, is designed to boost students’ academic skills, improve their study habits and get them ready for more rigorous subjects.

Students are referred to the program by their middle-school teachers. The teens are referred, based on such criteria as poor grades and poor attendance habits.

“A point system is used, and it’s very objective,” said Colleen Chapman, this year’s coordinator of the program.

Participants attend half-days Monday through Thursday, either in the morning or afternoon sessions.

“We like to think of this as instruction, not punishment,” Chapman said. “If they weren’t able to handle eighth grade, they won’t be able to handle ninth.”

Beyond academics, the program also helps students gain learning strategies and boost their communication skills. Chapman said the small teacher-to-student ratios allow teachers to spend more one-on-one time with each student.

Math teacher Linda Horst has been with the program since its inception four years ago, and the change she sees in many students is remarkable.

“They hate coming when they first start,” she said. “Halfway through, they look forward to it because it becomes a positive experience. They see they’re making progress and learning, and I think it turns their attitude around.”

Chapman said the idea is that success will continue once the students reach high school.

“You hope it gives them enough of a boost so, when they go into the classroom, they know they can do it,” Chapman said.

In another program, about 130 high-schoolers are enrolled in summer school at the Career Center to make up credits. They are voluntarily taking courses in academic subjects such as English, social studies, science and math.

The high-school classes aren’t cheap. Students in the six-week program pay $120 per course and can take a maximum of two classes in the morning-only session.

Susan Olp can be reached at 657-1281 or at solp@billingsgazette.com

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