What Summer Break?

Eat, do homework, sleep. Wake up and do the whole thing all over again.

That's how many high school students in advanced classes feel, especially now — during the season of summer homework.

It's one thing during the school year, when shining in the distance is summer freedom: a whole two and a half months of rest, fun and relaxation, and a break from homework.

But for many students, summer break doesn't always turn out this way.

For more than a decade, Modesto high schools have been assigning summer homework to the students of the Advanced Placement, pre-Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs. Freshmen have summer assignments in English; sophomores, juniors and seniors have English, social science and sometimes math and science.

A typical summer homework assignment for English might include reading two to three novels and writing essays or outlines for each book. A social-science assignment could include reading two chapters of the college level textbook and answering questions from study guides for the chapters.

If this homework is not completed by the first day of school, the student will receive an F for the assignment, or even be forced to enroll in a lower-level class.

So what is the purpose of all this summer homework?

Kendall Graham, an 11th-grade AP English teacher at Downey High School, finds summer homework helps in evaluating the writing skills of incoming students. It is also a useful way to determine students who don't have the self-discipline to keep up with advanced work.

"Honestly, yes, the assignment is used as a 'weeding tool,' " Graham said, "but it also helps the student take a stab at an analysis paper with the prior skills they have obtained. Thus when school starts, we can use those papers to look at the strengths and weaknesses the students have in writing."

Graham also feels summer homework is an important tool to help students get up to the pace needed to cover all the material in an advanced class.

"I think that the summer homework assignment is crucial because it gets the students in the work zone before school starts," Graham said, "but it also covers two novels we would not have time to cover in class."

Virginia Lundquist, English department chairwoman at Downey, said: "The pathways to the AP exams are very rigorous, and if the students hope to pass with higher than a three, they must understand even the summer homework assignment requirements are a minimum."

Even though many students understand the reasons for summer homework, most are not happy to do it.

Many feel they need more of a break from schoolwork. Some feel that because most advanced students are involved in many activities outside of school, they keep their minds sharp without homework.

Some see summer homework as potentially useful, but time-consuming. Carly Koester, a senior at Johansen High, has a 35-hour-a-week baby-sitting job and plays traveling soccer and summer basketball.

"I know it (summer homework) serves a good purpose to keep kids involved in studying," she said, "but it's too much — it's our vacation."

Jessica Rodriguez, sophomore at Modesto High School, agreed.

"It's OK, it keeps us doing something in our schoolwork," she said. "It's just hard to have it during my summer vacation."

Many students also say they are too busy — or too tired of schoolwork — to start their summer homework until the end of July, August, or worse, during the last weeks of summer vacation.

To comment, click on the link with this story at Amy Hund is a junior at Downey High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program.