by Jess Hill
Many educators and parents would like to see a more balanced vacation schedule for the school year. There are several benefits to shortening our summer vacation, not the least of which is making real gains in the ongoing battle of knowledge and skills lost over the long summer break. When compared to students from other countries with shorter summers, our students lag behind at the beginning of each subsequent school year, due to our drought of traditional learning in June, July, and August. Even at Harpeth Hall, I happen to know that a group of teachers approached our Head of School several years ago, advocating for such a shift to a more balanced calendar.
At the risk of disregarding research and modern thought surrounding the antiquated agrarian school calendar, I want to go on record as a summer advocate. Although quadratic formulas and Spanish conjugations may be a little rusty in late August, I believe the cracks and crevices in knowledge can be closed quickly. The learner and the teacher return to the task at hand refreshed and energized. Instead of looking at what is lost with a long summer break, I want to remind us of what is gained over the slower pace of summer.
When left with more unstructured days, our students may pick up an unassigned book to read. They may make a new friend at the pool or in the neighborhood. They can become experts at something. It might be a dance that is choreographed in their bedroom or a perfected free throw in the driveway. They have time to imagine themselves doing something they have never done, and then they are able to change that vision ten times if they want to. More importantly, our students have to re-learn how to entertain themselves. They no longer have five minutes between each class or each after-school activity. They may even have the luxury of hours without anything to do. These hours are when songs are written, Ping-Pong is improved, long walks are taken, and clouds are observed.
Summer doesn’t count in the GPA and it isn’t on a transcript. Students crave that freedom. They sometimes need to be free from the routines that govern their school days. An essay written in Time magazine years ago, said that “the best summer moments were stretchy enough to carry us all through the year.” Try not to compare your family’s summer experience to another family’s. Who is to say that learning how we deal with unstructured time isn’t just as important as space camp? There is no judgment here on how anyone spends their summer. That is precisely the point. We can do with it as we please. When all is said and done, I believe the most important thing gained by our longer summer vacation is perspective. And I feel better about starting the next school year with a healthy dose of that.