Summer school isn’t a last chance for students needing to pass a class; it’s about achievement.

“There’s a stigma about summer school that’s not really accurate,” said Erik Shuey, South-Western City Schools’ executive director of secondary education and athletics.

Most of the approximately 150 students who participated in the district’s 2019 summer-school program were taking their chosen class for the first time, he said.

“In a lot of cases, students are taking a class during the summer to free up their schedule for the regular school year so they can fit in college credit courses or other classes they want to take,” Shuey said.

Students who are repeating a class during summer school aren’t always enrolled because they didn’t earn the class credit.

“We’ll have students who weren’t able to finish the class because of a medical issue, or they moved out of the district for awhile then came back,” Shuey said.

Twenty-eight South-Western students qualified to participate in the summer graduation ceremony held Aug. 15 at Central Crossing High School.

Of those, 26 were seniors who took a summer class to earn enough credits to graduate as a member of the class of 2019, Shuey said.

Their achievement is a triumph, he said.

“Each of them had to persevere, to overcome an obstacle in order to graduate,” he said. “That’s something that’s going to help them as they go through life and face different challenges.”

Two students accepting diplomas Aug. 15 were graduating early and took courses over the summer so they could get their high school diploma a year ahead of schedule, Shuey said.

The summer commencement is no different from the larger ceremonies held for each high school in June, Shuey said.

“The students wear cap and gowns, there’s a commencement speaker, the school board and all the high school administrators are on stage and they have the chance to walk across the stage and get their diploma,” Shuey said.

“There’s an intimacy to the summer ceremony that’s really special,” he said, “and I think knowing the obstacles some of the students had to overcome to be there gives it a special meaning for the students and their families.”

Each year, the summer- school program is developed to meet the needs of the students who have registered, Shuey said.

This year’s program was held for 4 1/2 hours weekdays from June 10-28 at Central Crossing.

Thirteen teachers led classes in English 1-4, physical science, biology, algebra I and II, geometry, modern world history, art history, physical education, health and American government.

Students could take only one course each and could take only physical education, health and government for first-time credit, Shuey said. All others were available for credit recovery.

Some district students choose to take courses during the summer through the Virtual Learning Academy, an online program offered by the Jefferson County Educational Service Center in Steubenville, he said.

VLA courses are available year-round, Shuey said.

In July, South-Western also offered a week-long program that provided instruction and intervention for students looking to pass an end-of-course state test, he said.

About 30 students participated in the program, including four students who are past high school age but needed to pass at least one component of the old Ohio Graduation Test, Shuey said.

Many of the students participating were freshmen or sophomores wanting to give themselves more time and chances to pass state tests, he said.

The students who received their diplomas Aug. 15 included Seth Wilks, a senior at Central Crossing.

Wilks took an English class during the summer to earn the last credit he needed to graduate.

“There was probably more pressure than a regular class, because this was the last chance for me to be able to graduate with the senior class,” he said.

Getting his diploma “feels like a real accomplishment,” Wilks said. “It’s an accomplishment knowing you were able to get it done on time. It feels good.”

Wilks took part in the welding program at the South-Western Career Academy, and is interested in a career in the welding field.

“I like working with my hands on a project, and there’s something peaceful and almost serene when you’re using the machines,” he said. “The white noise kind of blocks everything else out and makes me feel calm and relaxed.”

Walter Pablo-Rodriguez earned his diploma a year ahead of schedule. The Westland High School junior took an English class through the VLA during the summer to complete his high school credits.

“I wanted to finish early so I could go to work at my dad’s framing-contracting business,” he said. “I decided I wanted to get school done and go to work.

“It took a lot of hard work, but I’m really happy to be finished with school,” Pablo-Rodriguez said.