Summer programs, while sometimes useful and engaging, can handicap students heading into the challenging honors and AP classes   

December 2, 2023 — by Anika Kapasi
Graphic by Isabelle Wang
How the first week of junior year felt.
Student’s focus on getting ahead over the summer to look better on college applications leaves them to disregard what will truly make them successful the subsequent school year: reviewing the fundamentals.

After experiencing 13 “first days of school” — from pre-K to junior year — I am always left bored from listening to teachers talking about their class syllabus for an hour or annoyed at time wasted from doing yet another ice-breaker or “get to know you” activity. Then again, being a junior this year meant I had a jaw-dropping amount of content heaped on my lap on the first day alone. 

With classes increasing in difficulty as we progress, being able to transfer the knowledge learned from the previous year to current classes in the new school year has grown incredibly challenging; this problem has been especially dominant going from a regular class to an honors or AP class. 

Not enough people talk about the hardship of the learning loss that follows the transition from summer vacation to school. The competitive academic culture at the school that pushes students to stay ahead in hopes of looking stronger on college applications leaves students to disregard what will immensely benefit them in the following school years: reviewing the fundamentals. 

I remember on the first day of school this year, AP Chemistry teacher Janny Cahatol lectured almost all of Chapter 1 — significant figures, the classification of matter, the early history of chemistry, nomenclature, mass spectrometry and solving stoichiometry problems — because it should have all been a review from Chemistry Honors. The content was familiar, but I struggled to grasp what she was discussing in the lecture since there were so many small details I could not remember. 

She gave us a green-colored packet that summed up almost a semester’s worth of Chemistry Honors in four pages and told us that if we were struggling with some of the concepts, we should search up some extra practice on our own and come ask her clarifying questions during tutorial. We spent about three classes on review before we moved on to new material and it felt as though I was already behind six school days into my junior year.

I recall spending the first weekend after the first full week of school rummaging through my old Chemistry Honors notes and papers, stressed out every time I flipped a page and found something else I had forgotten from the previous school year.

Summer learning loss, or “summer slide,” which is the loss of academic skills over the course of summer vacation, is a prevalent and recurring problem throughout all grade levels. A study published in the Review of Educational Research found that on average, American students’ achievement scores decline over the summer by one month’s worth of school-based learning and the extent of learning loss is larger at higher grade levels. 

At SHS, the greater expectation to achieve in the summer sometimes actually exacerbates learning loss. This is because internships, volunteering and residential academic programs are the norm for many students. The downside: These programs, although they can be beneficial in deciding a college major and look better on college applications, take time away from maintaining mastery over a tough subject like chemistry.

This expectation to overreach in the summer often leaves students in a mad scramble to get back on track to set themselves up for success for the upcoming semesters. Going from sophomore to junior year — and making the jump from taking zero AP classes to taking three APs and an honors class — I wished I had taken the time to digest what I learned over the previous school year. For me and many of my classmates, the struggle to remember the content learned last school year has been prominent and it has only been compounded by the shocking change of pace between regular and advanced classes.

As many classes with a higher difficulty level are always in a rush to finish lectures and cover content in order to follow the AP guidelines or the honors curriculum, it is essential to come into the school year properly equipped with the foundational knowledge to be successful in advanced classes. Taking the time to review previously learned concepts is just as important as a summer program or internship, and thorough preparation will leave you confident for the start of the school year and all the hard work that lies ahead.

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