How they spent their summers

Anthony AlexandreBlythe Rinehart-Pimentel, 11Laura Hernandez

Laura Hernandez, 13; Blythe Rinehart-Pimentel, 11, and Anthony Alexandre, 13 were three of the kids that photographer Laura Oda and I followed this summer for our stories about the importance of learning during the break. You can read the latest piece and watch the videos here.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Debora

    Thank you for the article and the video. You have captured Blythe’s thirst for knowledge and desire to share her learning with others.

    I hope other students take advantage of U.C. Berkeley’s Academic Talent Development Program (ATDP) in future years. Blythe is correct in stating that she learns more in 12 half-days of camp in the subject that she is studying than in an entire school year. The work is intense, however it is age appropriate learning.

  • Sharon

    Studies show that the total number of books in each type of home will describe the differences, too. Read “Unequal Childhoods” by Annette Lareau for an analysis of differences in child rearing styles between poor/working class and middle class parents.

    One group of parents does not produce better human beings than the other, but one does train their children how to achieve more academic success than the other from the moment the child is born. It comes naturally because they have the skill set and resources to do it, and are also likely to have been subjected to the same techniques when they were children.

    Think our mean-spirited, fragmented, tightly class-based society — huge segments of which are politically passive — will ever make a wide-scale investment in programs that might help compensate, even a little bit, for a few of these social class differences? I don’t.

  • Catherine

    Sharon: As I watched the videos of the various students I found that many students spoke of texting, playing video games, talking on cell phones, having an iPod Touch. How many of those parents would be willing to spend the same number of dollars on books or classes?

    The mom in the video talked about the science camp for $100. That’s one video game.

  • Nextset

    You’ve got it wrong Sharon – and you delude yourself to refuse to consider the possibility and probability that these “differences” are physical.

    They are physical differences – in varying degrees perhaps, but very physical and very real.

    You cannot just take a person and “teach” them into being what they are not. You can teach and train a person to make the most of what they bring to the school. The point is that people bring different assets and liabilities – physicality – with them into first grade. And after puberty those physical differences are magnified.

    No amount of holding your breath and swearing it’s not true can change reality.

    For a small example – what do you say to a groups that have the largest group differences in the age of onset of puberty? Blacks vs Asians? Are you saying that the two groups by age 14 are expected to behave and make choices the same – and that you can educate and program them the same? (I think the current stats are that 23% of the black girls are into puberty at age 9 now, a number that’s gone up quite a bit the the last 50 years.)

    People are different and you can’t make them the same. You also can’t easily make them grok what you do and what you want them to.

    So to some degree “education” has to be voluntary – thus our black drop rate at OUSD because the school fails to keep the interest of those students with the program OUSD offers them.

    The program needs to change – big time. We are not all the same.

    Brave New World.

  • Nextset

    Sharon, I order that book immediately. Look forward to reading it. Please consider Banfield’s “The Unheavenly City” if you haven’t read it. It deconstructs “class” and what it is – how the various classes within society operate.

  • Katy Murphy

    Let’s stay on topic, please — what kids do, or don’t do, in the summertime. I’d like to hear people’s thoughts on the subject!

  • Jenna

    We were on a tight budget too. My sons went to the secondary division of ATDP at U.C. Berkeley campus. Both took AP classes in the six weeks in their academic areas of strength.

    My oldest son caught AC transit and BART with classmates. My younger son carpooled with friends and used the campus to study on the days he was not in class.

    My older son already has 10 AP units from classes he took at ATDP. The work he does is 1/2 classwork and 1/2 homework/independent study.

    They have both had required summer reading from their high school.

    There is not much of the summer left. Both boys (young men really) spend time helping their grandparents repair their home and garden. In two weeks they are back to school.

  • Ms. J.

    I have heard before of how the gap widens during the summers, but was recently speaking to two middle class white mom friends and heard them bemoaning their sons’ regression in reading over the summer.

    Of course that is not to contradict the differences described in Katy’s article and related studies, nor the problems in these differences, but it does beg the question of why we still have the lengthy summer vacation, which from what I’ve read is based on the needs of our formerly agriculture-based economy for youthful hands to help out in summertime harvests.

    Developmentally, having such a lot of time off at time doesn’t make sense and it means much effort is expended over and over as each school year is kicked off with the reintroduction of routines and refreshment of information and knowledge which the kids knew before leaving for vacation.

    In the UK the school years are not longer but are broken up more regularly, for shorter periods.

    Of course as a teacher myself I relish my long time off, but also as a teacher I believe we should reconsider.

  • Debora

    Ms. J, you bring up some very valid points. My daughter is one featured who went to the chemistry class. Because the school’s scope of teaching is so limited; to that of only mathematics, reading, and writing with some science thrown in, she learns more math and science in the summer months (with the exception of her fifth grade teacher and science) than she does all school year.

    Writing in two weeks of summer workshop at the end of third and fourth grade and she learned more writing during those two weeks than she did all school year. Between the peer editing, teacher editing and lack of student misbehavior she made incredible leaps in both expository writing (morning class) and creative writing (afternoon class).

    In mathematics, she often tops out the CST. Because the teachers are focusing on the needs of the other students in the class she has already mastered grade level mathematics. She has asked to take math online while others are learning. Her fifth grade teacher allowed Blythe and another student independent math study the last few weeks of the year. Blythe learned more in those four weeks than the others combined because she had already learned the material.

    So, for many students the summer is too long, parents choose or don’t know how to make learning opportunities available, but for my daughter 10 months of the same type of classroom “learning” would kill her thirst for independent thinking, analysis, learning by integrating math, science, reading and writing and her ability to take initiative in her education.

    Perhaps what we should do is to have teachers learn about the summer programs and steer students toward appropriate summer enrichment – the vast majority offer free or reduced cost if you apply early and demonstrate financial need and good behavior and study habits. OUSD offers summer school to those needing additional time to learn the previous grade level material. OUSD used to offer summer school to gifted students but they disposed of it two years ago.

  • Nextset

    Sharon’s points about kids and summer are to the point. What we are really describing is a caste thing. Kids will do what their family & caste does. The wealthy get frequent flyer points and those low on the ladder – the present oriented as Banfied would put it – just sit home and play video games.

    If we want social mobility it’s really up to the schools and non-profits such as Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs to cajole prole families & kids into doing something more that can lead to upward social (occupational) mobility.

    This summer I’ve noticed (again) teens as young as 13 being sent abroad or cross country alone to visit family or to go on school sponsored trips. Those parents who sent them did so because they want them ready to leave home by 18 to go away to college. I hosted relatives from Europe for a few days who spent a month in the USA – 13 and 17. The younger one is already planning his next trip 2 years hence – he’s going to get a CA driver’s license on that visit.

    I’ve been getting emailed photos from my SoCal friends who take their kids to world capitals every summer. Their parents did that for them. The prole families I know just have their kids sitting. They neither have money nor time from work to even take the kids on roadtrips. More importantly they don’t see any need.

    It’s a caste thing.

  • Makeitgoaway

    Nice article Katy and so true…but don’t minimize the role of parents regardless of their class/caste. One of America’s richest men, Andrew Carnegie, never forgot how a rich man allowed him access to his library, so he built libraries across the USA in gratitude.

    Each school should have a recommended reading list by grade level(or reading level) with all the books available at the library. Good schools have this. You don’t have to “wait for superman” hoping you get into ATDP- which is a good program, but not big enough to accommodate many kids. and by the way, parents can simply look online for recommended reading lists- schools do not have to be involved.

    At our school (not OUSD) our open enrollment AP program has summer assignments for most AP classes, recognizing the brain drain, and wanting students to have some skin in the game when school starts. But summer assignments across the country have been challenged by parents who claim they interfere with necessary down time, or family vacations. ironic, huh?

  • On the Fence

    Wow! Very interesting article. Thank you Katy!

    I wanted to mention one other factor that begins to rear its head although it does not seem to be a factor in the case of these particular kids and is not specific to purely academic pursuits. That is; the fact that many kids about 12 or 13 begin to opt out of enrichment/academic camp activites (science, music, drama, camps, soccer, ballet) that they have loved and chosen to participate in all their lives. Suddenly they lose interest, or maybe they want to exert more control over their lives, in general. As well, this often corresponds to a time when parents are more comfortable giving more independence (ie. the childcare aspect of camps and enrichment activities is no longer such a pressing factor). I have witnessed this first hand in myself, in my own kids, and in many, many of their peers. Usually they are able to self-motivate again a few years later, thankfully.

    While I don’t think that this was a factor in this particular case, it came to mind as I saw that we were comparing a 13 yr old’s experience with that of an 11 yr. old. which can be very different for developmental reasons.

  • Debora

    Makeitgoaway – while ATDP cannot accommodate every child because of its size, it can accommodate 1,000 K-6 students and another 1,000 or more middle/high school students. They can accommodate many more than apply to the program.

  • Nextset

    While I remember going to libraries in the 1960s, now children will encounter homeless, mentally ill and porn surfers in my local public library. I know of no mother that wants her 12 year old going there unescorted – and Mom has to work anyway so they tend to not be in the libraries.

    Barnes & Nobles is still ok though.

    But reading for pleasure is just not a prole thing. It’s just not going to happen. Not in their value structure. And I spend time with a prole family regularly to see how they are doing. I’ve done this over the decades. What I’ve learned the hard way is that you cannot change their core values – and I’ve tried. Their children will become their parent(s) absent a major physical intervention such as removing the children from parental custody to the extent they no longer see each other – and substituting a new and different caste from the one the child was born into.

    Changing caste is done incrementally. A direct assault on caste membership while they remain resident in the lower caste creates cognitive dissonance that blocks absorption of the new mores. Think of the “acting white” syndrome in the ghetto children.

    So if you want to get children to change from their programmed values and behaviors you really have your work cut out for you. You can’t easily to get them to read for pleasure – for example – when Mommy and Daddy never do and look down on those who do.

    So I suppose I’m back to my old point of taking people as they are and doing the best you can for them without forcing them to try to change fundamentally. I believe that behavior is the problem with OUSD’s black drop rate – we create a school experience unacceptable to the black majority because we want them to “act white” – so they drop out.

    And I’m not happy about the state of affairs, I wish we could get (more of) them to act white.

    By pushing all this enrichment stuff are we actually trying to force change on the proletariat? You don’t have to push it on the middle class, they’re all for enrichment activities. The middles are interested in social mobility and are afraid of downward mobility – so they want their children prepared to take any advantages still available to rise or at least do as well as the parents.

    Again, my experience is that children do what their families & caste expect them to do for the summer. That’s what I see and that’s what I hear. The higher the caste, the more enriching the summer activity. The lower the caste, the more they sit on their haunches and do nothing enriching.

  • Mom of 3

    I’d like to mention that our family has rallied around the free online Khan Academy this summer. All three of my elementary-aged kids are maintaining or moving along in their math skills as well as learning some interesting other content. It does require a computer and internet connection, but other than, it is free. We set point goals for each child and have worked together to sharpen and keep up their skills.

  • Debora

    Nextset – I have been thinking about your comments and your theories – thinking about them a lot. My daughter is the self-described “scientist.”

    I came from a family that you probably would have described as “prole” or lower caste, an unstable family fraught with abuse and neglect. Before I was in high school I had attended 27 different public schools – not including the schools I went back to when my mother left, or rejoined her husband at the time. I remember asking to read my “CUM” or cumulative file in high school. Because I turned 18 in March and my official graduation ceremony was not until June, I fought to be able to read it, count the schools and remember the names of teachers who gave me a hand up along the way. Over and over again I read teacher comments about the low expectations they had of how my life would be and how bad my life was. But there were teachers who also noted the way I learned in spite of my upbringing and continual migration.

    Why would I put this information out for all to read? Because until someone explained to me the difference between a junior college, community college, state college or university, the University of California system and private colleges and universities I did not know the information. I simply had no point of reference, no clue.

    Before having my daughter I took 36 units in child development and child psychology. I did so to give a future child a chance of a good middle class type of life. I don’t know how it will all work, but I know this much is true, I listen to my daughter and I know her. I listen to what she dreams of doing with her life. And I ask and seek and research and sometimes make a fool of myself working to find the information to help her take science and math classes.

    My point in all of this is that while I may be classified as the lowest caste in your eyes, I am working to do what is best for my daughter. Laura Hernandez, the other girl in this article wants similar things that my daughter wants. She is just as capable. The difference is information – someone did not give Laura and her parents the information about the summer programs in math and science. I believe OUSD failed her when they identified her as gifted to get the money from the State of California yet did not provide any information on programs for which she might qualify. They simply used her for more money.

    Laura’s parents may be working class, similar caste to my caste, yet they too want to help their daughter achieve her dreams of being a scientist. They just were not afforded the same hand up (as opposed to a hand out) that I received.

    My question to you Nextset is how does one who wants to achieve more than the life they are born into do so in your book? What do they do if they must live in an environment that may not be helpful or is even harmful? There are hundreds of identified “gifted” students in Oakland in this situation. What is your answer to Laura’s parents who want to help their daughter and don’t even begin to know where to get the answers?

  • Steven Weinberg

    Debora, You said in post 15 that you believed that OUSD designated a student as gifted to secure money from the state. I was a GATE coordinator at my site for 8 years, and I believe the state has not provided gifted funds for years. Districts fund the programs out of their own funds. In Oakland, when more students were added to the program by increasing testing at flatland schools, the per pupil allocation had to be cut. Several years ago the allocation for each child was only about $40, and it may be less now. Whatever shortcomings you want to ascribe to the district, designating students as gifted to get more funds should not be one of them.

  • Debora

    Steven Weinberg – The State has provided (up to last year) between $110 and $200 per student. The district keeps a large portion of the money for testing and administrative processes – now it keeps all of it. They money you speak of, once between $10 and $40 per student used to be given to schools depending on the number of GATE identified students.

    Until 2004 OUSD did not routinely test students below highway 13 for giftedness. It was by petition only. Now all third grade students in the district are tested. In nearly every school in the district we have identified gifted students.

    Before the state made it easier to take funds from gifted students and use them without restrictions OUSD stated that the cost of testing all students was eating up the vast majority of the money.

    Shelly Weintraub, who retired and then Nancy Midlin have worked with parent volunteers to hold parent workshops biannually to inform parents of options within the school district. Nancy has worked very hard to have teacher training and certification in how to differentiate curriculum to allow students to work within the structure but to learn the material more deeply within that structure. She started with the middle schools.

    As a society we have a responsibility to identify AND help students make academic decisions when they are gifted. It is no different than identifying dyslexia and then not giving academic assistance in helping the student achieve the school choices the student needs to make learn at an appropriate rate or way of learning.

    Laura has been identified as gifted. If she was identified in third grade, the school district has received $600 – $1,000 more for her than for an unidentified student. It doesn’t sound like much until you multiply that by the thousands of students who have been identified. My daughter and Laura may not be given services by the district, but at least there could be a list of places in which to make summer and school break enrichment possible. Many of these experiences offer scholarships but you must know the program exists and you must know the requirements to apply and the deadlines to meet.

    Since you were a GATE coordinator at your site you saw the money attributed to your site. I challenge you to research the funds that came into the district – not just the school site – for the gifted students in the district.

  • Nextset


    People have moved up the socioeconomic scale for centuries! It’s a lot of fun. The game may work differently for the sexes historically. Marriage is important to both sexes in climbing.

    The big thing about social climbing (and by that I include occupational) is that Knowledge is Power. That’s problem number one because low class people as a rule have no use for knowledge they can’t use right away. If someone can’t follow that rule they’re ripe for moving up.

    So I assume our hypothetical social climber has the motivation to study all aspects of her targets, her nation, the world, history, industry and society to see various paths out of the ghetto or whatever it is he or she is trying to leave behind.

    It’s nice if there is someone, a teacher, friend or relative to start playing tourguide.

    Yes, schools will deliberately mess over students by promoting them to their level of failure, loading them up with student loans they can’t reasonably expect to be able to pay, put them in unreasonably high risk situations likely to damage them. Colleges do this for the money and the stats. It’s strictly the student’s problem to manage their own decisions to avoid these things.

    Some people will seek advice widely, do a good job of analyzing the options and take their steps wisely. Some are just lucky or have somebody taking good care of them. Some are just dummies.

    Changing caste is nerve wracking and can be fraught with peril. Kind of like a bone marrow transplant. if it doesn’t take, you’ve just had your own marrow destroyed and so you die. You often dynamite your bridges before you have a secure foothold in the next caste. People do not respond well when they realize you are leaving them for another caste.

    It would take more time to cover all the things a high schooler has to go through to make a big change. I’ve seen many do it. You can change to go down class also. Seen that to. Drugs, weapons and theft does that fast.

    When speaking at a public high school to lawyer wanna-bees I said it starts by loosing your loser friends and relatives. Some people just won’t do that. They often find that if they seriously move on up it happens anyway, the losers dump them.

    In general the process starts when you start hanging out with those who are after the same thing you are, whether it is college and the professions or Norteno management level. When opportunities present themselves you have to take them. If you want to stay in caste you don’t.

    Then we have the girlfriend and boyfriend problem. I have known LOTS of incidents where a prole boy or girl hooked up with an upscale lover and was welcomed into the society of the higher caste mate. The men often end up working for the father in law’s business. They take care of burnishing him to become accepted (including helping with school admissions, etc). It does seem that the upscale lover is most (always?) often the younger child in the upscale family. The younger daughter for example now combines the family’s money or society with the burning ambition of the hungry lower caste hubby. Common story!

    Her (high caste) older sister is more likely paired off with the first son of a comparable family.

    I think it may work with the younger higher caste son marrying more adventurously also. Social climbing wife marries younger son of better family and they together are more ambitious than the older sibling who takes life for granted.

    The US is a great playground for occupational and social climbing. Look at WWII and the GI Bill and what it did for those from the farms and the laborer class. Our immigrants are walking into the remnants of that society and they find it very simple to move on up here. Not like the old industrial nations of Europe.

    So back to your daughter. It all starts with language, reading skill and a good grip on deportment. These things are denied urban blacks because it’s thought that teaching this would make them too unhappy – maybe they’d riot – I don’t know what the libs are thinking. Urban blacks usually cannot overcome a bad public school socially or occupationally.

    The teachers I grew up with were Irish immigrant Nuns who just loved to upset everybody all day long no matter what color you were. They get in your face if they didn’t like your penmanship at 2nd or 3rd grade, much less your diction.

    After the basics are nailed down, it’s ambition and knowledge (and willingness to move). If you have that, this country is your oyster.

    Think about what it took for Condoleeza to major in Russian. Look what it led to. I have a relative who went from Richmond Unified (they had no heat one winter) to Iowa on a college scholarship to finishing college in Europe on an exchange program. She stayed. She’s happy and very well off. Married very well. Remember the Josephine Baker story? Why be Bi-Polar in St Louis when you can be exotic and crazy in France. And then there’s Oprah. No matter how black, how crazy or how whatever, good verbal skills and nerve can do well. In business and in every other occupation. It helps if your school taught both.

    I hypothesize it’s always been easier for the girls. As long as they had the steel to do what needed to be done to make the jump.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Debora, I went to the state web site (cde.ca.gov) and you seem to be correct that the state does provide districts with GATE funds, but the amount does not seem to depend on the number of GATE students in the district, which was my basic point.
    I don’t know where you got your figures of $110 to $200 per student. The CDE website had a printout which showed OUSD receiving $348,000 several years ago. There were more than 6,000 GATE students that year. That works out to $58 per student. If you subtract the cost of one psychologist to do testing, one secretary to file the paperwork and place orders for schools using GATE funds, and a part time coordinator, you have about $200,000 in central costs. That leaves $148,000, or about $25 per student and no funds to compensate the teacher or counselor at the school site who takes on the additional responsibility of coordinating the school site GATE program. Criticisms of the GATE program should be aimed at the state, not the district.

  • Skyline Mom

    It is very interesting to me to read all these comments regarding the need for academics in the summer. I have two boys, both were designated as GATE students. One is attending a top UC and the other will attend an Ivy league college in the fall. Both attended OUSD schools from K-12. Neither ever participated in any academic camp or program in the summer. They went to sports camps, we traveled or visited family and as they grew older they had jobs. In this test driven and academically pressured environment we thought it was very important to have a break and be kids! They did read-but the downtime allowed them to recharge and find books that interested them-just as adults do when they have the chance to take a vacation. Just a different viewpoint.

  • Makeitgoaway

    But your kids had a parent who nurtured them at home and provided them with books, vacations and conversation so missing from the lives of many of today’s students. You obviously did a great job. The majority of students will not read unless instructed or required to do so. Sad, isn’t it?

  • Skyline Mom

    My point was that there are different paths to success and that parents should not feel that they are not “doing right by their child” if they choose to let the child have an old fashioned summer of play, sports and relaxation followed by a classic teenager job when they are older (or a volunteer job given the lack of paying jobs for teenagers right now). There are so many experts and consultants telling parents that they have to do something academic in the summer and often these consultants have an economic interest in the advice they give. I was just trying to reassure parents that other approaches are possible. BTW many of the students that I know (most of whom are in our public schools) do read by choice so perhaps the picture is brighter than you think

  • J.R.

    Skyline Mom,
    Every child who works hard at his/her education during the year deserves the option of having a fun summer without ridicule. The problem is that from kindergarten on up we have far too many kids that are basic,below basic, and far below basic(because of apathy, and educational policy, social promotion rears it’s ugly head).The bar for retention is so low that practically anyone can pass.

  • J.R.


    The bar to avoid retention is so low that virtually anyone can pass it(much like the HS exit exam, which is 8th grade level). achievement becomes illusory because the bar has been lowered so much.

  • J.R.


    I meant to say that the bar to avoid retention is so low that virtually anyone can pass it(much like the HS exit exam, which is 8th grade level). achievement becomes illusory because the bar has been lowered so much.

  • Debora

    Skyline Mom: My daughter attends ATDP every year by choice. The choice is hers to attend, the choice of courses is hers. The thing about Blythe is that she really, really loves to learn. In three years of elementary school she actually asked her teachers if she could take the tests in advance to “give them the scores they need” for the opportunity to learn something she did not already know during class time. Blythe is the type of student who chooses to live to learn.

    All of that does not need to be in a formal classroom, of course. However, students who want to learn should be given the opportunity to do so. My daughter has learns through almost everything she does. She milks the goats down the street, mucks the goat stall as well. Blythe makes a lemonade stand to earn money for many of the things other young people are given by their families. She works hard at work, volunteering, and school.

    What she wants most, though, is to learn. I often hear parents and school officials talk about the universities that have accepted students from OUSD. I believe that students from OUSD have the potential to be accepted to any university in the US and abroad. My ideas about learning and my daughter’s education are not based on university acceptance nearly a decade away. The state of California is very clear that there are science standards for every school year. Blythe loves and values science education. Often OUSD classrooms teach less than half of the science standards, particularly in elementary school. For this reason, Blythe takes her science classes in the summer – not for acceptance to university – but for the pure love of learning. If you watched her in the video you would see that she has pure joy in her chemistry class.

  • livegreen

    I think both Skyline Mom and Debora have valid points about different ways to stimulate children during the summer.

    I want to 2nd two of Debora’s other points:
    –OUSD could easily aggregate a list of recommended summer camps, as well as age-appropriate reading. Primarily it would benefit the children, secondarily it would benefit the school district. (Gee, does OUSD have an interest in that?);

    –OUSD does not require enough science teaching. They even have a program designed by UC Berkeley called FOSS. But is it taught at all schools? No. And is it taught by all the teachers at the schools where it’s supposedly taught? No. That is strictly up to the teachers (who often feel justifiably crammed by Open Court).

    These are both two things OUSD could easily do (if they put their minds too it), and that would have a big payoff for both the kids AND the District.

  • livegreen

    Katy, Please look into FOSS and where it breaks down at schools that teach it. It would make an interesting story on several levels…

  • Ms. McLaughlin

    I simply must acknowledge and congratulate the sophomores I had the pleasure of working with this summer at Fremont High School. We started out with a total of 70 students, spread over two classes; a significant number of them never showed up at all (why not? And how do we fix that next summer?)

    The numbers dwindled further as the sun shone outside, but in the end, 38 remained. They worked extremely hard for five weeks to recover their English credits, and I am very proud of them. Each class was two and a half hours long, and I promise you, there were NO charity grades.

    Good job, darlings, and I wish you every success this upcoming school year. (And remember…nine hours of sleep every single night!)