It used to be a mark of shame: Summer school spelled “flunky.”

Now, summer school is cool.

Classrooms across Ontario report record numbers of teens choosing to show up bright and early to earn high school credits this July — not because they have flunked a course, but to get a jump on next year.

With all the new programs to help them pass, fewer Ontario students are failing — the dropout rate has fallen to 23 per cent, down nine points in the past six years. Now summer schools are getting a new clientele.

Not, surprisingly, because they can’t get a job. This trend seems to be fuelled by academic ambition, rather than boredom.

“We surveyed 35 students and only three said they were here because they couldn’t find a job,” noted principal Peggy Aitchison, who oversees a range of summer courses at Forest Hill Collegiate.

“Most say they’re here to reduce their load next year — and to get a better mark through summer school, because taking just one course allows you more concentration.”

Other students say they’re turning to summer school to fit in arts and co-op programs for which there is precious little time in the four-year curriculum. There are aspiring actors earning a drama credit as they rehearse their parts for Seussical, the musical (based on Dr. Seuss), while others earn an art credit designing and sewing their own clothes.

Jenny Hanshen, a Grade 12 student at Don Mills Collegiate Institute, is taking math this summer to make room for a course she really wants this fall — economic analysis.

“My year — the graduating class of 2010 — is much more competitive than even the class of 2009, and a lot of people take summer school to get higher marks because they can focus on just one subject,” said Hanshen, 16, who is taking advanced functions in mathematics this month at Forest Hill Collegiate.

At the Toronto Catholic District School Board, summer school has seen the biggest increase since the double cohort.

“We have more to offer students now, yet less time for them to take it,” said Paul Adams, summer school principal at Brebeuf College School.

“No wonder they’re coming to school in summer.”