Summer classes affect students’ productivity during school year

Elisabeth Siegel

Flipping through her textbook, junior Camila Rivera prepares for an upcoming quiz. The class is small and the students are engaged in discussion. She opens up her phone and sees photo after photo of her friends at the beach or in the mountains, while she is still sitting at school for eight more hours. She is at school in the middle of June. And it is summer break.

While some students choose to spend their summer at camp or traveling the world, many students choose to spend more time in the classroom. Whether it could be to ease their academic workload, to free up room in their school schedule or to help fulfill their credits, 15 percent of students have taken a summer course at school, according to a Sept. 20 poll of 174 upper school students.

Rivera took ethics, government, honors computer science and health classes over the past two summers in order to make more space in her school year schedule. To lessen stress during the school year, many students like Rivera get required credits out of the way during the summer.

“I think most kids do better in summer school because it’s the only class they’re taking so there are fewer distractions.”

Mike Schneider, Director of Summer Programs

“My parents expect me to take harder classes to improve my resume,” Rivera said. “Taking the easier classes during the summer gives me more room to take honors and AP classes and also have a study hall during the school year. Summer courses definitely brought me ahead and helped my stress.”

Students use summer classes in order to move up to more advanced levels. In order to take AP math her senior year, freshman Samantha Wu decided to spend her summer taking Geometry.

“I was bored during the summer, so I wanted to get some classes out of the way,” Wu said. “I also thought this would be a good opportunity because I always wanted to be one level higher [in math].”

Director of Summer Programs Mike Schneider has observed that many students take summer courses to be on an accelerated path in certain subjects. But it also appears that many students don’t take summer classes because they want to take the AP version during the school year.

“I think some kids take a full schedule because they feel the pressure from a college entrance perspective and then that makes summer school a necessity,” Schneider said. “Now the flip side is some kids won’t take government in summer school or economics because they want to take AP, so that can go either way.”

Students have observed many other advantages to taking summer courses. According to recent data from the Center for High School Success, ninth graders with fewer courses each term stay on track at a significantly higher rate.

“I knew sophomore year and junior year would be really stressful, so I was ready to take advantage of summer classes,” Rivera said. “If needed, I had more one-on-one time with the teacher because I didn’t have to worry about other academics, sports and community service. Honestly, I think there was more of an advantage since you have less time. They really teach you what you need to know, and they help you out more since the teachers don’t have any other classes to teach.”

Often, students believe that summer courses are easier than the same course during the school year. The reality is that lesson plans are sped up, but teachers have less classes to teach while students have less classes to take.

“I think most kids do better in summer school because it’s the only class they’re taking so there are fewer distractions,” Schneider said. “And when you take something more intense and at an accelerated speed, you’re a little bit more immersed in it so you can retain what you’ve learned in a shorter period of time. It’s also a more relaxed environment, and I think most people do better in that.”

Ethics teacher Tolly Salz, who taught the class during the summer, said that there are many differences between the summer classes and regular classes, but it is not necessarily easier.

“What might take three days in the school year, over the course of a week actually takes one day, without the other distractions, responsibilities and duties students have to other subjects,” Salz said. “I can go further into the subject or concept without feeling that the students are overwhelmed and stressed about eight other assignments they have to do that day.”

Salz usually teaches the college essay writing classes during the summer, but this summer was the first time that she taught summer ethics. She highly recommends taking summer ethics due to the environment and ability for students to dive deeper into the subjects.

“I fell in love with not only [ethics], but what the students were doing and how we were able to listen to one another and show respect for one another’s ideas,” Salz said. “I had such a great group and I felt like I got to know them in a very special way.”

At the same time, many summer school students miss out on their summer break and vacation activities.

“Yes, you’re being productive, but you’re not having fun while everyone else is out hanging with friends,” Rivera said. “I was stuck in school for eight hours, but it was nice to get it over with now that I think about it. I only recommend summer school if you don’t want to have to focus on doing it later.”

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