Jon Duff, left, discusses his biology grade with North Salem science teacher Daniel Ortiz at summer school (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

When Briana Ender failed English her freshman year of high school, delayed making up the class so she wouldn’t have to tell her father, who never finished high school.

Ender, an incoming senior at North Salem High School, said she’s expected to be a role model for her younger siblings.

“It’s really important to my dad … that I graduate,” she said.

But with her last year of high school approaching, she opted to sign up for summer school, making up the course so she wouldn’t be juggling two English classes as a senior.

She’s one of 240 North students making up failed classes through a summer credit recovery program.

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The classes don’t look much like traditional school. Students work through courses independently on laptops using a program called Edgenuity, watching video lectures, taking quizzes and unit tests and submitting writing.

The classes are designed for students who have some knowledge of the course material already. Each unit comes with a pre-test, so students who already understand the material can move on more quickly.

Students can work by themselves or in groups, and teachers are on-hand to answer questions. School runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., but many take laptops home and put in hours in the evening to get through the material.

In a stuffy, upstairs classroom at Parish Middle School, Avery Dowd bent over a laptop. He’d already made up two semesters of English and was spending the last week of school on a health class to get ahead.

“I grinded. I even did it at home, too,” he said.

Avery Dowd, left, and Skyler Bartram joke with each other during summer school (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

There are dozens of reasons students end up in summer school, math teacher Keith Kuhn said. Some fail classes because they didn’t understand the course material well the first time. Some were doing fine academically but then missed weeks of school and weren’t able to complete the work. Some simply checked out.

The self-guided setup where they can focus on a single subject helps some succeed on a second try.

“They’re in control,” Kuhn said. “Some kids respond to that.”

Jon Duff signed up for summer school after a recommendation from science teacher Danny Ortiz. Duff had Ortiz for advisory, a short period twice per week where teachers help students catch up on academics, learn study skills, stay on track for graduation and prepare for life after high school.

Duff fell behind during his first two years of high school, when he didn’t take work seriously.

“I would stay in bed all day and I would just mess around in class,” he said. He regularly earned Ds and failed one semester of biology as a sophomore.

His junior year, Duff decided to put effort into school and discovered he wasn’t bad at it.

“I started doing my work and all of a sudden I started to get As,” he said.

He earned a 3.45 GPA last year, up from the 1.0 he had halfway through his sophomore year.

Ortiz suggested he make up the biology credit over the summer so he didn’t have the requirement hanging over his head as a senior. Duff finished the class in one week, discovering he already understood much of the material. Then, he re-took second semester biology, bringing the D he’d earned as a sophomore up to a B.

Now, Dunn is thinking about attending the University of Oregon to study architecture and has signed up for Ortiz’s AP Physics class next year.

“I’ve noticed that change in John where he seems a little focused on higher education,” Ortiz said.

It’s not unusual to see students excel at summer school after an initial success, he said.

Even with the shorter timeframe, lead teacher Karri Gordon said the classes are rigorous. English students still read classic texts like “A Doll’s House,” “Animal Farm” or “Romeo and Juliet” and have to write essays.

North Salem senior Briana Ender poses in a classroom at Parrish Middle School, where she re-took an English class over the summer. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Teachers find ways to work with students who may not be motivated. Gordon said one student was stumbling around an assignment to write about mythology, so his teacher instead asked him to write an essay explaining the defensive tackle position. The student, a football player, took on the assignment with enthusiasm and did well.

She checks in nightly and on the weekends to monitor student progress and approve assignments so kids who are on a roll can keep learning on their schedule.

“Once we get going, we don’t want them to stop,” Gordon said.

Each of Salem-Keizer’s six high schools have a summer credit recovery program. At North, students started a total of 320 semesters of class over the four weeks, said Stacie Creighton, an instructional mentor at the high school. Staff estimate those students will finish about 235 semesters of class by the end of the program on Thursday.

Ender juggled her English class with work, putting in 25 to 30 hours a week at KFC. As a result, she had to do most of the coursework during the day at school.

She’s struggled with anxiety in large classes in the past and appreciated working in a quieter environment, she said, though she didn’t always understand Shakespeare.

When she passed English, she treated herself to burritos and a piece of cake. Her father was happy for her too.

“He’s actually pretty proud of me,” she said.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: (503) 575-1241 or [email protected]