Summer sun overshadowed by school pressures

Rebecca Smalbach

Summer should be a time to forget about the pressures of school and truly relax. No tests, no essays, no distractions. A time where my friends and I can go on the road trip we’ve always talked about, or spend days on end at the beach.

But this summer, I found myself trying to hang out with friends, only to hear that they were busy. One was writing college essays at a camp sponsored by Cal, another was taking Chemistry at the College of Marin, and another was studying to take the SAT for a second time.

I fear these friends are emblematic of the recent trend toward participating in school-like activities year round. No longer is it enough to be worked to the bone during the school year, but it is now necessary to do something academic during the summer in order to be competitive when applying for college.

I hear warnings from my classmates that colleges will think I’m lazy if I spend my summer reading by the poolside, or on a trip with my family. Nothing less than 100 percent effort is acceptable, during the summer as well as during the school year.

The internships at science research foundations, the literature camps at Stanford––everything is designed so that we are always doing more, stressing more, worrying more about how many summertime activities colleges would like to see on our resumés. There is always another ACT to take, or more work experience to gain.

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This, however, is not a real summer. It’s a mere shadow of one, the bright colors of the sunset in the Headlands dulled down to the off-white color of a Scantron.

This is the erosion of summer as we know it.

Now, it is looked down upon to spend the summer with friends. Though summer might not be arranged into ninety-minute block periods, it is now seen as something to be achieved, something to power through.

Summer should mean freedom and represent happiness. It should not be viewed as a series of obstacles to dodge before getting back into the grind when school starts again.

The days of summer shouldn’t be defined by how many volunteer hours you still need to complete, nor the number of practice tests you still need to take.

And yet, the season we used to consider a break from hard work is now measured by the amount of hard work we complete. We are caught in a race where the only prize is year-round exhaustion.

I fully admit that I’m a willing participant in this race. I want to be competitive for college admissions, and so I, too, feel the need to fill my summers with standardized test preparation and academic camps at elite universities.

I wish that my summers could be the simple, carefree ones glorified in movies and books, but expectations from colleges make that impossible.

Even during the snatched moments when I’m relaxing with friends, there’s still the nagging urge to do something more productive with my time.

I felt just as stressed this summer as I did the previous school year, probably because I had just as much busywork to do and just as many books to analyze.

Students, parents, and teachers should not take this deterioration of summer lightly. Before high school, summer was a safe space to unwind from the stresses of school before the next school year came to wind you back up again.

But with all the work we are doing over the summer, there is no time to unwind at all.

School is blending into summer, and summer is blending into school.

Colleges say they want students with a passion, but we cannot have a passion when our free time is filled with academic work and test prep.

Ten months in school is enough time to learn and stress and test and resume-build.

Let the other two months of summer be a time of peace, relaxation, and enjoyment of our teenage years.

Academic programs and goals dominate our school year. They shouldn’t be allowed to dominate our summer too.