End summer break?

Posted: October 1, 2010

Students often celebrate the arrival of summer break, but should they?

The effects of summer break are not always positive for students

by Olivia Dorow Hovland, Talon staff writer

Some students are fortunate; they get to spend their summer breaks as interns. “One girl took her summer and worked at a research lab and it really excited her. She did some biological research for six or eight weeks and it just spurred her on, helped her decide what college she was going to go to, what major she was going to go into and she ended up as a very successful physical therapist and is getting her doctorate. It really made a big difference in her life,” says teacher and dean Mike DiNardo. But many students aren’t that lucky or motivated and instead of being an asset, the summer break can detrimental to their educational journey.

Summer break is an American tradition. The current school calendar originated decades ago when children were needed in the fields to help their parents with the farm. In the agricultural life, the summer months are crucial and farmers need all the help they can get.

Now, farming isn’t so widespread an occupation and kids don’t work in the fields anymore. Farming isn’t a family business anymore; it’s been corporatized and mechanized. Still, summer vacation remains a trademark of American culture, even when its original reason for being instated has become obsolete.

It would be wiser to have the school year last the whole year. Breaks would be more frequent and longer to compensate for the loss of the three summer months, but this way students would constantly be in the educational mindset, which would help them learn better, more, and faster. “If they’re just going to be hanging around at home playing video games,” says DiNardo, “it would be better for them to be in school.”

The summer break as we know it was first created in the 1840’s as a way to merge the two academic calendars that American schools were operating on. One system had rural kids attending school only during the winter and summer leaving them free to help with the spring planting and the autumn harvest. The other system had the more urban students sitting in classrooms for 48 weeks of the year. The merger of the two calendars and the creation of the three month break still allowed time for the country children to help out on the farm but also had them in school for longer so that there wouldn’t turn out to be huge disparities among the education levels of children in the nation. The fact to focus on in all of this is the date. This calendar was created in 1840; that’s 170 years ago. The educational calendar may well be the only thing our current culture is still using that dates to the 1840s. If we can’t imagine dressing in the styles of the nineteenth century then we shouldn’t be educating our next generation in that era’s traditions either.

KIPP, or the Knowledge is Power Program, is a groundbreaking new approach to education. It is designed specifically to help disadvantaged kids who come from neighborhoods not known for their academic prowess catch up to the rest of the students their age. Kids are at school from 7:25 in the morning until seven at night. And while that may sound over the top, it has worked wonders for the students who are enrolled there. “By the end of eighth grade, 84 percent of the students are performing at or above their grade level,” says Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Outliers. The reason that these kids are doing so well is that they are in school longer. Over the typical summer break, children from a low-class family statistically lose knowledge at a faster rate than kids from a middle or high-class family. “The students who suffer under the present system are the ones who don’t have the opportunities to experience some type of new and enriching activity during the summer,” says calculus teacher Rich Enderton. Putting these at-risk kids in school for longer than their more privileged counterparts means that they now have the opportunity to perform at their full potential without the barriers of the class-system impeding their progress. Being in school longer is simply better for them. Which means it’s probably better for everyone.

Another reason to consider eliminating the summer break is the fact that we have our nation’s global ambitions to take into account. While American kids are in school for about 180 days a year, South Korean students are in class for 220 days; Japanese for 243 days. Their educational system is more effective than the American one because they “have the time to learn everything that needs to be learned,” says Gladwell, and consequently, less time to forget it. Don’t we want to be able to say that about our students too?

That being said, the summer break is a time-honored staple of the American year. Kids get to go to camps, spend more time with friends, take trips to the cabin or to see relatives, and are able to let their minds wander and be free for a while. Also, “If you want to learn something that’s the time to do it. Students can branch out and do more things,” says DiNardo. “There’s a lot of valuable things you can do that will keep your mind moving forward and keep your mind fresh and learning.”

Being able to unwind and recharge like that is extremely valuable. The art of vacationing is a lost one and leisure is an obsolete term in today’s bustling, fast-paced world. It stands to be said that learning how to enjoy yourself and relax is perhaps just as valuable as a good education. Too much nowadays people are living to work instead of working to live, which doesn’t make for a contented future population. But maybe a skill that should be learned alongside how to relax is how to schedule and budget your time so that the leisure doesn’t only come during those three months of summer but instead at times throughout the year when you make it a priority.

Eliminating the three-month summer break from the American educational calendar could serve as the start of a nationwide trend; a trend that embraces education for all. It could also signify the beginning of a more equaled playing field. If all students were given the same opportunities then our culture as a whole would be more enriched and vibrant as a result. Right now there is a large gap between the underprivileged and the over-scheduled. With an educational calendar that allows time off for relaxation but keeps students in an educational mindset throughout the year, the benefits would be innumerable.

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