The negative impact summer homework has on students

OPINION

Saskia McDonogh Mooney

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The negative impact summer homework has on students

All year long, students look forward to each day off they have — it’s their reward for working during the week. No break, however, is more greatly anticipated than the summer. During this time, students recharge in whatever way they deem effective, even if it doesn’t necessarily align with standard practice. Ultimately though, each person feels fresh by the time school rolls around. This way they are fully prepared to soak up new information and learn.

‘Born a Crime’ by Trevor Noah (Random House) is the summer reading for AP English Language & Composition; ‘War Dances’ by Sherman Alexie (Grove/Atlantic) is the summer reading for English 2 at Lane.

And yet, that is not necessarily the case at Lane Tech. This is because of the summer homework that looms in the back of people’s minds.

While it may be argued that it allows for some teachers to hit the ground running with their lessons, as students already have material prepared, it may also be argued that it drains them before the year even starts.

“I don’t know if I’m going to be very motivated during the school year,”

 said freshman Nadia Brasseur, Div. 573, when discussing the effects doing summer homework have had on her.

The summer homework is her first introduction to the school. It creates a negative connotation associated with school for her: stress. 

This is in stark contrast to her sister Cecilia Brasseur, a junior at Northside, where they do not assign summer work.

“It makes me feel less stressed before the school year, especially starting a new school year after COVID,” she said.

Many other selective enrollment high schools, including Northside and Walter Payton, have removed summer homework from their curriculum, and as Cecilia implies, their students thank them for it.

Denise Pope, senior lecturer at the Stanford University School of Education, argues in an interview to Greatschools.org, that while she believes three months is too long a period to go without stimulation for students, she does not believe summer homework works either.

“There’s not a buy-in from the [kids],” Pope writes. “In order for any learning to be retained, there has to be engagement on the part of the students.” 

This argument is mirrored in Nadia’s apprehension before the school year even started — her ability to be engaged is already waning. 

“It’s going to be stressful,” she said.

Nadia may be prepared for class with the right materials, but not the right mindset. It is not her fault; the blame lies in the existence of summer assignments.

However, there is the Mackenzie report to contend with.

In the article “The School Kids Are Not Alright” by the New York Times Editorial Board, the author references the Mackenzie report, which is a comprehensive look at education during the pandemic. They relay that all students, particularly students of color, are behind the recommended levels of learning during a normal school year.

Information like this does make the arguments for teachers that students need work over the summer to prepare them for the school year.

Yet, it discourages students from engagement, participation, and excitement from the start, all of which are essential in creating a classroom environment that is viable for learning and growth.

As well as that, this school year is not normal. The COVID pandemic is still a threat to the well being of our entire school, and presents a dark cloud looking over the bustling halls and full classrooms that are a foreign experience after the past year and a half. 

The constant adjustments students are making in the school environment are enough stress without the added burden of summer work. 

Last school year, despite feeling like a haze, I felt safe. Now this may seem impossible because there was a pandemic, which did not make anyone feel existentially safe whatsoever. But being in my room that I curated for my comfort, doing school work at my own pace, making myself good meals during school, and being able to pet my dog, I felt comfortable. I was able to detach myself from the world falling apart outside and just exist in my little bubble.

But this year, on the first day of school, I was completely uprooted. While I did go back in person last year, there were barely any people and it was the end of the school year which made it much more laid back. However, on August 30, 2021, I spent the whole day in shock. I got home and all I could do was lie down and eventually shower in an attempt to ground myself. I had been completely overloaded by the number of people, how apparent it was that social distancing was impossible, and my classes being treated exactly the same as they were freshman year. As if the spread of COVID was not an ever present threat, made to feel even more present by the human traffic jams at stairwells H and O.

The summer homework said to students that teachers would be acting as if this was a normal school year. This approach does not take into consideration that many students are unprepared from last year to learn this year, like they would have had to before the pandemic hit. 

This discourages engagement because it makes the students, myself included, feel like our true needs are not seen. That teachers and administrators do not understand the emotional turmoil that happened for every single person I know during the pandemic, and that healing from that experience, which we are technically still living through, is a process that will take a very long time. 

So, when discussing with friends, everyone was a little surprised, baffled even, that they were in fact assigning summer homework.  

I know, and I am sure that my peers know as well, that teachers and administrators also have been through so much recently as well. It was a communal experience, yet that sense of community is not being felt now. Personally, I believe that the past should not be swept under the rug. That as much as possible, teachers and administrators should discuss with students how they are feeling about this school year, and share their own feelings, in order for everyone to be better prepared for success. 

Because if neither side understands the other, a disconnect has formed that makes it so much more difficult to listen and engage, and through that, teach.

If students had been eased into this school year, meaning no summer homework and addressing that this year is not like that of years past, there would be no disconnect.

With that in mind as well, this year should not be treated akin to those before the pandemic, for the benefit of the students. Yet, this year’s summer homework contradicted that before the year even started.

So, if teachers and administrators want fresh minds and motivation from students, not infringing on their one period of extended free time, there should be no homework over summer break.