Putting the "break" in winter break

Dec. 28, 2011, 12:49 p.m. | By Rachel Auerbach | 11 years, 11 months ago

Homework free winter break would benefit everyone

Most students struggle to make it through the long stretch between Thanksgiving and winter break. Teachers and students alike may be ready for summer vacation after only four months of school, but a week of winter break will have to suffice. While all of our private school friends started enjoying winter break two weeks ago, those of us here in MCPS had to bear an extra week of longingly staring out the windows, imagining all of the fun awaiting us during the holiday break. Snowball fights (well, maybe that didn't happen this year), time with friends and family, a few presents, no stress…oh wait.

Stressed-out students should be able to escape the pressures of school over winter break instead of having to worry about doing homework. It is becoming increasingly common for counties to implement homework-free winter breaks. Photo courtesy of dcmetrocentric.com.

Maybe that would be true if you took away the projects here and there, the couple of school books that need to be read and mountains of textbook assignments for a test the day after break ends. If only the holiday break could in fact be restful, rather than a week of wrestling with the guilt of not wanting to work.

But wait! That could be a reality! Homework free winter breaks are becoming more and more popular around the country as administrators, parents and students are realizing and becoming more vocal about the negative effects of a constant, heavy workload. Since the release of the documentary "Race to Nowhere," which highlights the pressure that high-achieving students go through in order to get into the "right" college, many concerned people have taken a step back to look at the bigger picture. What does pulling countless all-nighters really add up to in the long run? Maybe it helps students score a few points higher on a test, but it detracts from kids achieving balance in their lives.

Vicki Abeles, the director of "Race to Nowhere," said in an interview with the New York Times that "by expecting kids to work a 'second shift' in what should be their downtime, the presence of schoolwork at home is negatively affecting the health of our young people and the quality of family time." According to a study done by Denise Pope of the Stanford School of Education, high school students who have more than 3.5 hours of homework per night are more likely to have mental and physical health issues. A different study by Pope concluded that 67 percent of students in 26 public schools said that they were "often" or "always" stressed out.

These statistics are alarming – when students are risking their health because of homework, something is wrong. Homework-free winter break is a much needed implementation. Students need time to recuperate from the first four months of school before they're hit with exams and the end of the semester crunch.

With extracurricular activities, Advanced Placement (AP) classes and everything else, students rarely have free time, much less an entire day, for relaxation. Winter break should be a time when students can escape the everyday stress of homework and school and spend time with friends and family, watch a good movie, read a good book or just relax.

Aside from just needing a little rest and relaxation, several other factors can inhibit students from completing work over their break. First of all, many students go on family vacations where they do not have access to a computer. Who wants to do homework while tanning on a sunny island in the Caribbean or skiing down a mountain? And then there are those who have other stresses. Seniors are scrambling to finish their Jan. 1 college applications and the last thing they need are school assignments looming over them.

In a school year that is 42 weeks long, one week without homework seems reasonable. Common sense dictates that having a short break from work will allow rested students to hit the books hard come exam time. So, hopefully in the future MCPS students will be able to look forward to snuggling up by the fire to watch an old classic instead of snuggling up with a Calculus textbook.

Tags: ap homework Race to Nowhere stress winter break

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