Leadership team votes to end summer assignments

These+former+summer+reading+books+may+no+longer+be+assigned+following+the+school+based+leadership+team%27s+decision+to+end+summer+assignments.
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Leadership team votes to end summer assignments

These former summer reading books may no longer be assigned following the school based leadership team's decision to end summer assignments.

These former summer reading books may no longer be assigned following the school based leadership team's decision to end summer assignments.

These former summer reading books may no longer be assigned following the school based leadership team's decision to end summer assignments.

These former summer reading books may no longer be assigned following the school based leadership team's decision to end summer assignments.

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The Northwest School Based Leadership team voted to remove all summer assignments from Northwest’s curriculum last January. Beginning next summer, teachers will no longer be allowed to assign work over the summer that will be followed up with a grade or a test.

While the news came as a surprise for many students, a lot of thought and discussion went into the verdict; the leadership team– comprised of teachers, administrators and parents– had been discussing the issue for months.

“We legitimately debated the issue for four months,” English teacher and leadership team member Alexander Wertz said.

Guidance counselor Elizabeth Lucas first brought the issue to the Leadership team as a mental health issue back in September.

“Stress and anxiety are on the rise in high school students,” Lucas said. “I noticed there were students who had quite a few summer assignments,”

Over the summer, students engage in a variety of activities from sports, to getting a job to travelling with family. Proponents of removing summer schoolwork feel that these activities are beneficial, and that having schoolwork to deal with was potentially interfering with them.

“Summer should be a downtime where students can do other things that help them round out their high school experience,” Lucas said.

A proposal to limit summer assignments to just AP classes, was also considered. The reasoning behind the proposal was that students need to stay engaged in their subject over the summer so that they could be ready to take the higher level class. The proposal was ultimately denied a final vote.

“The concern was that we have students who take four or five AP classes, and we have students who take none, so that wouldn’t be fair,” Spanish teacher and leadership team member Amy Kieffer said.

Students expressed joy at the idea of a summer without school work.

“I think it’s pretty neat,” freshman Sean Jessop said.

Teachers, on the other hand, raised concerns about students losing some of the skills they have gained over the previous year.

“Having the summer reading was a beneficial thing, even with students being reluctant to read,” English teacher Andrea Julian said. “There’s just so much research to support that reading is essential and important.”

Teachers also expressed concern with how the decision to cut summer assignements reflects on Northwest.

If other schools are continuing with summer reading, what does it say about our school that we’re getting rid of it?”

— Julian

If other schools are continuing with summer reading, what does it say about our school that we’re getting rid of it?” Julian said.

While English class assigned readings over the summer were removed as part of the decision to cut summer assignments, they were not the target of the decision. The team cited that while reading a novel or two over the summer as most incoming freshmen do is manageable, the amount of work from other classes added up to more than students could handle.

“One of the major contributing factors was that it wasn’t just English doing the assignments anymore,” Wertz said. “It was now multiple math classes, multiple science classes and even in world language classes.”

A proposal to limit summer assignments to just AP classes, was also considered. The reasoning behind the proposal was that students need to stay engaged in their subject over the summer so that they could be ready to take the higher level class. The proposal was ultimately denied a final vote.

“The concern was that we have students who take four or five AP classes, and we have students who take none, so that wouldn’t be fair,” Kieffer said.

While Northwest is currently allowed to make the decision to eliminate summer assignments as a school, the choice could get overturned by a larger change in Guilford County policy. Such a change may be possible, as the decision to eliminate summer reading seems to run contrary to Guilford County’s and Superintendent Sharon Contreras’ goals to promote summer involvement and close achievement gaps.

“Guilford County has lots of incentives for students to be engaged in reading over the summer, and all of a sudden our high school has decided no we don’t want that,” Kieffer said.

Although it is possible Guilford County would like to see academics occur over the summer, students who do not spend their summer doing schoolwork are not necessarily wasting their time.

“When you apply to a college, apply to the military or want to get a job, you need to be more than just a student, and summer gives students an opportunity to do that,” Lucas said

Guilford County overruling the school’s decision would be controversial and set a precedent that could undermine the value of choice within school. Because of this, even proponents of summer reading are against the idea of someone from outside stepping in to overrule the decision.

“The one thing we do value at this school is having the autotomy and being able to make those choices for ourselves,” Julian said. “I don’t want it to be overturned to where we lose the freedom to make the choices that are best for our students.”

Even though the decision was made to remove it this year, the possibility remains that summer assignments could come back in the future. According to Kieffer, the leadership team has floated the idea of voting on summer reading again next year.

Despite the uncertainty of summer work’s future, it won’t be around next summer, marking a landmark change in policy at Northwest that will be looked back on for years to come.

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