A Summer Without Assignments?

Jefferson administration changes summer assignment requirements


Tammy Ding

Sophomore Ikhlaas Bhat reads When Asia was the World, a book that was given to read as a summer assignment before the year began.

Minjoo Song, Staff Writer

Jefferson has recently implemented a policy eliminating mandatory summer assignments. This change was the result of an ongoing discussion between department managers, students, and administration. The prospect was first conceived several months ago in response to voices of concern from the Jefferson community questioning the worth of summer assignments.

“We have asked teachers to rethink required summer assignments,” principal Dr. Ann Bonitatibus said. “We define required summer assignments as those for which students are going to be held accountable by having to submit deliverables, such as producing a paper or being required to have knowledge of the information and then being tested on it immediately upon returning from school.”

Concerned voices from parents and students about the stress they undergo every summer has spurred administration to take action and reconsider the current policy. In the making of this decision, students’ best interests were taken into consideration.

“It was a combination of ongoing feedback that we have been getting from parents and students regarding how it feels to start the school year at TJ with required assignments,” Bonitatibus said. “Especially knowing that every summer we have about 1000 students taking summer school, and as soon as they finish summer school, they have to turn around and then focus on summer assignments–which is normally during the time that their families are now going on vacation.”

With freshman year summer assignments in particular, difficulty in communication was another pushing factor in this policy change.

“When [freshmen] are new to TJ, the communication has not been very good–for many families, they weren’t even finding out until about a week before school started that there were summer assignments. And this is a time when a transition to a new school is most important,” Bonitatibus said. “Having a last minute required assignment to do, or feeling the pressure to do something when you haven’t even met teachers yet and you don’t know what TJ is going to be like can be really stressful.”

Bonitatibus acknowledges that required summer workload may not be reasonable and believes that making them optional will improve mental health in the Jefferson community.

“Six teachers might think their summer assignment is reasonable. But doing all six things is not reasonable; we started pulling up and looking at how much we were asking students to do,” Bonitatibus said. “That’s not a healthy way to start school–tired and stressed–but our students are so conscientious and they want to please the teachers and they want to get good grades. We remove just a little bit of stress by making the summer assignments not required and start the in a positive way.”

It is important to recognize that Jefferson is not removing summer assignments as a whole, however. Teachers may still put out material for students to look over before school starts to better their chances of success in a particular course. Bonitatibus predicts that the removal of the mandatory nature of the assignments will lessen students’ stress and improve their well-being before the beginning of the school year.

“If we have teachers post things for the summer that are enrichment activities, saying, if you’re going to take a certain class next year, these are the skills you might want to brush up on, chances are the majority of students at TJ are probably going to take a look at them,” Bonitatibus said. “When the assignments were required, some students were spending the last three or four days before school started staying up until midnight or later trying to get them done.”

On this note, Bonitatibus points out that students will often take steps to become better at classes they are interested in without the need for required assignments– if materials are provided over the summer, students will likely take initiative to prepare for a course on their own. Bonitatibus emphasizes that a considerable amount of learning happens outside of school.

“If there’s one thing I really want to get across to the TJ community, it’s that we value lifelong learners,” Bonitatibus said. “We also know that learning doesn’t happen only within the walls of TJ between the third week of August and the second week of June. You are amazing, bright, self motivated students; you like to enrich yourself–you go out and you learn on your own.”

AP Biology teacher Sonia Del Cerro notes that summer assignments are useful for some subjects, such as AP Biology, because they cover material that the course itself doesn’t have time for. In the beginning of the year, students are tested on material they teach themselves over the summer to accomodate for the fast pace of the course.

“The way it is in AP Biology, we require the students to come prepare for those units, and then the first test is testing the students part of that information,” Del Cerro said. “The summer assignment is supposed to help the students to review some basic concepts that we don’t have much time to go over because we are pressed for time. So I think [having the summer assignment] is helpful for the students so that they can come prepared.”

On the same note, sophomore Ikhlaas Bhat believes that this change may result in decreased course preparedness. However, he does agree that the required summer assignments policy should be amended.

“Even though I hate summer assignments and I hate doing them, I feel like some are essential for the curriculum—it’s important for them to actually like start the course otherwise there’s gonna be really slow start to the year,” Bhat said. “But I do think the structure of summer assignments should be fixed.”

Junior Mia Yang echoes this sentiment but adds that this change may benefit students in terms of stress and well-being.

“It might impact courses such as AP Physics in that students are less prepared when the school year starts, so they have more catching up to do,” Yang said. “But I think it’s a step in the right direction and will result in less student cramming and stress before the school year starts so that they can really enjoy break.”