Some districts run their own programs; others rely on outside providers.
The Philadelphia School District pays Valley Forge Educational Services, the Chester County nonprofit group that runs the Vanguard School, for Vazquez to spend six summer weeks working on math, reading, and vocational skills.
A six-week extended-school-year session costs $6,870.
Lessons are hands-on. When it is time for math, Vazquez's teacher, Michele Seel, might take the class of seven students, ages 15 to 17, out into the community to buy food or order a meal.
"A lot of them can do it on paper, but once they get into a restaurant, it's different," Seel said. "We work on that."
Classes are small, with an average adult-to-student ratio of 1-4. Physical, occupational, and speech therapists are on-site, along with counselors, their services integrated into a regular day. Students' disabilities range from mild to severe.
Vazquez, who has academic and social learning challenges that place her behind grade level, has blossomed, her teachers say.
"Kids feel relaxed here," said Holly Zipperer, director of Summer Matters, an arm of Valley Forge Educational Services. "They're not the exception to the rule. They feel comfortable."
Districts from Philadelphia to Lancaster County pay to send 165 students to the extended-year session at the Vanguard School, one of many programs in the region that offer such services.
On a recent day, the 28-acre campus in Tredyffrin Township was alive with activity. In one classroom, students in a program for people ages 18 to 21 played a game of SAT Prep Jeopardy, tackling words such as opportunist, wan, and somnambulist.
The teens are mostly recent high school graduates who need more preparation before entering college or the workforce. Many have some form of autism; others have some neurological problems or behavioral issues.
Academics are important for this group, said Zipperer, but perhaps more crucial is the "regular camp stuff," such as volleyball and social activities, which they may struggle with.
"They can pass an SAT class," she said, "but they don't necessarily know how to act in a college cafeteria."
Kellie O'Loughlin, 18, from Springfield, Delaware County, said keeping her skills current in the summer was a big help. She is in the Vanguard Transition Center program for postgraduate students, but she also participates in Summer Life.
Summer Life puts students, with and without special needs, into real-world situations to use academic, social, and behavior skills across different settings.
Families pay for Summer Life privately.
O'Loughlin is fresh off a week in Fenwick Island, Del., where she and her peers swam and saw wild horses but also navigated social situations and got a taste of relatively independent living.
"It made me relax, get out of my shell," she said. Recently, O'Loughlin, who has some neurological impairments and aspires to work as an emergency medical technician, has found herself assisting other students.
This summer, O'Loughlin and her classmates will, as part of the program, embark on an "independent living residency" - a week at Camp Hope in Schwenksville.
Planning, practice, and aid with transitions are crucial for special-needs students. In many classrooms, visual schedules and detailed behavioral-incentive plans help keep students focused.
Before an elementary-age class hits the playground for a morning break, for instance, its teacher prepares the students to walk through the hall.
"My hands are hanging by my side, I'm standing very tall. My eyes are straight ahead, I'm ready for the hall," the class recited. The three boys walked quietly. Their teacher heaped praise on them.
But there is also room for fun - recess, water play, and cookouts along with classes in cooking, karate, drumming, tennis, and music technology. It's summer, after all.
"There's a ton of research out there that says people with good leisure skills are happier," Zipperer said. "We help them learn those."
Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, email@example.com, or @newskag on Twitter. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles