Like many teenagers, Vanessa Romero will be spending part of her summer back at school. Each weekday morning until Aug. 4, the 15-year-old Palisades resident will rouse herself before 8 a.m. and head to Woodrow Wilson Senior High, where she’ll begin her freshman year in the fall, for a District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) summer “bridge program.”
All the self-discipline comes with a payoff. And not just that satisfaction-of-a-job-well-done crap, either. For every hour she puts in, Romero will be compensated $5.15, which works out to about $100 per week. “Some people do it because of the opportunity to get a head start on high school,” she says. “But most likely it’s because of the pay. I’m doing it because of the pay and because it’s a good opportunity.”
The program, designed to ease the transition to high school, debuted last year at four schools; for the current session 2,100 students have enrolled, spread out among all 17 District high schools. As with last year, DCPS will pay the students so they, and their parents, wouldn’t have to choose between work and school. “We understand that there are some parents who can’t wait until their kids turn 14 so they can get a job,” says Dora Taylor, marketing and communication specialist for the DCPS office of Career and Technical Education.
The payment component also offers a tool to motivate slackers. “When they’re late and stuff, we encourage [the teachers] to say, ‘This isn’t school. This is work, and you’re late for work,’” Taylor says. “The circumstances would have to be extreme, but you can also be fired.”