Summer homework: has school become year-round?

Amanda Young

By Amanda Young, ’11, News Section Editor

“I feel like school started in early August,” Lilly Fleischmann, ’11, exclaimed. Her exhaustion is the result of reading three full books, numerous chapters in textbooks, listening to Podcasts, and answering multiple question sets for her classes—during the summer. While some students find the summer work beneficial or refreshing, many others find their summer spoiled.

Although summer work varies on a class by class basis, every student at CCDS is at least required to complete English reading. College Prep students are expected to read two books for over the summer, and Honors and AP English students are required to read three. English Department Chair Patricia Dunn explained, “[It is] too tempting for students to allow their fields to lie fallow. So all we do is prod—and maybe poke—them to keep reading.”

While many students enjoyed this year’s summer reading options, some students found the limited reading choices bothersome. Students at CCDS are generally required to pick two books out of three options for College Prep, Honors, and AP English classes. Honors and AP English students also have to read a mandatory third, over which they have no choice. Ilana Habib, ’11, wished there would “be more choice for what [students] read for English.” Tara Leesar, ’10, commented, “I definitely wouldn’t recommend The Road.” However, Charles Warwick, ’12, generally enjoyed the choices and said, “I am already into school because of the summer work.” While some students complain about the limited reading options, Mrs. Dunn said that it is necessary because “we want the students to enjoy a shared experience.” She added that she rarely hears objections from her students about the choices, but said that “maybe they’re just scared of me.”

A class at CCDS that demands a particularly heavy summer workload is AP U.S. History. According to Upper School history teacher Peter Fossett, the summer homework is designed to “get a jumpstart … and give the students a feeling of what is expected of the AP class.”  Despite the importance of AP U.S. history homework, many students found the work to be excessive. For the 2009-2010 school year, AP U.S. History students were required to read the last six chapters in the class textbook, A People and A Nationl; read 281 pages in A People’s History of the United States; and write a three to four page analytical essay contrasting the two—all over the span of three months. Also, many students filled out the unbelievably long study guides for each chapter of A People and A Nation in order to try to prepare for the summer test on the third day of school. A couple of students also read the recommended summer reading: 1491: New Revelations of America Before Columbus.

“I think the [AP] U.S. [History] homework was a little excessive … If I can get through the same amount of work in three weeks, we can move quicker [during the school year],” Habib stated. What Habib is referring to is the three week AP U.S. History class that she took at Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth over the past summer to prepare for the notorious demands of Fossett’s course.  “We had class for seven hours a day … and had to write one DBQ [Document Based Question] and one standard essay every day,” she said of her intense experience. Lilly Fleischmann, ’11, was also worried about the rigor of the AP U.S. History class and said that she “talked to people that had already taken AP U.S.,” in order to get ready.

Habib suggested that it “would have been better to cover Columbus by ourselves [over the summer].” However, during his first two years of teaching AP U.S. History, Fossett required the “first few chapters of the colonial period” as summer homework. However, he found that it “didn’t gain time,” due to him having to re-teach much of the fundamental material.  Fossett credited this to the fact that “it was more boring for the students because the [colonial] period is so far away from their life experiences.” As a result, after his first years teaching the class, he started assigning the last chapters of the textbook.

Another element of summer homework that many students dreaded was the lengthy summer calculus packet required to take AP Calculus AB and BC. “Too much calculus!” Leesar exclaimed of the required packet. However, Leesar found that she had more summer homework at her old school, Ursuline Academy, because while she had less math work, she had work for all her classes, not just AP ones.

Requiring work for all classes or honors as well as AP classes is typical at other local high schools. At Walnut Hills High School, students are required to complete summer homework for all AA classes, the equivalent of honors at CCDS, as well as AP classes. The summer reading at Walnut Hills varies by class with students in regular classes reading as little as one book, while AP English Language or Literature students have to read two or more on top of watching movies and writing multiple essays. However, less homework is given for classes that are emphasized at CCDS like the AP U.S. History work and AP Calculus packet.

In contrast, at nearby Indian Hill High School, summer homework is required for most AP classes; however, there is less for each class than is expected at Walnut Hills or for many of the AP classes at CCDS. Also, all students are required to read books for English over the summer with the assigned amounts being one book for regular English, two books for Honors, and three books for AP. Interestingly enough, one of the few classes with no summer work assigned is AP U.S. History, for which a large amount of summer homework is assigned at CCDS.

While summer work varies from school to school, almost all students are touched by the growing summer homework trend, including those at CCDS. Summer break was once allotted so children could help their parents plant and harvest. But now that it is no longer common for a family to own a farm, schools in the U.S.A. are using the wasted time for summer homework.

Header illustration by Kaitlyn Morgan.