Sun, Fun, and Academics?

Summer programs are big, big business for local private schools.

April, 2002

Summer vacation is just around the corner. But for Debbie Hall, director of special programs for Iolani School, summer kicked off in early January, when she and her team began planning Iolani’s summer program. The three- to six-week session draws more than 2,600 students to the prestigious campus each year.

Hall and other summer-school directors are mum about revenues generated from their respective summer programs. Everyone, however, admits it’s a lucrative business.

“It’s a significant contributor to the budget, however, the overall budget for the academic school year is much bigger than my budget,” Hall says. She estimates that revenues from Iolani’s summer program are miniscule—only 1/25th of the school’s year-round revenues. “Besides,” she says “not all the kids stay all day, and it’s only six weeks long.”

Iolani’s summer program this year is scheduled to run between June 12 and July 23. Tuition will vary from as low as $100 to as high as $670, depending on the course.

During the academic school year, about 1,785 students attend Iolani – that’s 861 fewer than last year’s summer group.

The same is true for Punahou School, whose sprawling campus was packed with 4,200 students last summer. Punahou’s population academic school year is about 3,700. Brad Kerwin, summer school director, explains the swell in summer students: “There’s no screening and testing, and it’s less threatening. This is their chance to get the Punahou experience.”

That experience starts with the Punahou summer-school booklet, which, Kerwin says, is “the most widely anticipated publication.” Each year, approximately 7,000 copies are printed and distributed to Punahou kids and to former summer-school pupils. Phone and e-mail requests for the popular booklet are enormous, he says.

Punahou’s summer program, an 11-year-old tradition, has received enough clout to where marketing and recruiting efforts are minimal. The proof is in the enrollment: Punahou’s summer-school population has been growing by about 5 percent to 10 percent annually since the mid-1990s. “At most summer schools, students catch up or retake classes that they failed,” Kerwin says. “Not here, they’re taking classes to get honors or A.P. credit.”

No doubt some of the more unusual summer classes in the state can be found at Hawaii Preparatory Academy, an 88-acre college-prep boarding school in the Kohala Mountains on the Big Island. “We take advantage of our Big Island location,” says Gordon Bryson, HPA’s summer school headmaster. “Many of our classes are set up to use island sites as an educational laboratory, such as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, rain forests and the ocean.” Equestrian students have the run of the island. Not only do they and their horses have access the Big Island’s trails, but they also use campus grounds for polo and stadium jumping activities.

HPA charges $2,300 for day students and $3,600 for students who request room and board. The school’s program directors anticipate more than 200 students will enroll in the 2002 summer session, scheduled to run between June 25 and July 26. That number is significantly smaller than the school’s year-round enrollment of 587.

Summer school is a win-win situation for everyone. For parents, it’s one way to keep kids out of trouble. For private schools, it generates revenue. For students, it’s a way to enhance their knowledge, while having fun. “We try to keep a happy, positive place,” says Hall, about Iolani School. “Our only biggest problem is the dress code during the summer. Occasionally, the girls show their bellybuttons and the boys get distracted.” Sometimes, summer school can be too much fun.

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Cathy S. Cruz