School’s out: students pursue personal interests during vacation time


By Melinda Xu and Tiffany He, Co-Managing Editors

The Spoke surveyed eight homerooms regarding their summer activities, separated by grade level and chosen randomly. In total, The Spoke collected 101 responses.

The floor is a bright red and white checkerboard pattern. Large freezer boxes line the walls, filled with water ice.  Standing in the middle of the floor is junior Rebecca Rountree, busy filling the orders of the long line waiting for her in front of the counter. Leaning down, she scoops water ice into bright red, white and green striped Rita’s cups before hurrying back to the waiting crowd.

Rountree will continue working once school is out and summer begins. In total, 57% of respondents, in a survey taken by The Spoke, said they were planning to work at a job this summer. 

More people are travelling than working, however, with 75% of respondents planning to travel this summer. Next in popularity was volunteering, followed by playing in a sports team or league, participating in test preparation, attending summer camp, taking a course and, finally, working in an internship, as seen in Figure 1 (see page 3). Nevertheless, despite the variety of options available to students, it seems that the guiding force in choosing a summer activity is personal interest.

As seen in Figure 2 (see page 3), out of multiple choices, including academic and college pressures, personal interest had the highest aggregated percentage of respondents at 75%. 

Counselor Jenn Kratsa promotes personal interest as the primary factor in deciding what to do over the summer.

“We just encourage kids to do what they want first and foremost and take it from there,” counselor Jenn Kratsa said. “I think it’s important to give kids permission to do what they have to do and do what they want to do.”

Junior Jack Troy plays basketball for Conestoga, and his passion motivated him to continue doing sports over the summer.  He plans to attend multiple sports camps, including a sleepaway goalkeeper camp and several college ID camps, along with playing club soccer and basketball.

“I’m doing this mostly for self-improvement and to help keep in shape. Plus, sports are a ton of fun and I enjoy being out on either the field or court. You get to meet a lot of new people who may surprise you with what they can teach you,” Troy said. 

Sophomore Nusayba Chowdhury was inspired by her involvement in the Speech and Debate Club to attend the Debate Institutes at Dartmouth, a one-month program dedicated to the activity. 

“I want to improve my debating skills for the Speech and Debate Club that I’m part of,” Chowdhury said. 

One common thread in each of these activities is the pursuit of self-improvement. Even for Rountree, who spends her summer employed at Rita’s, working is a positive experience.

“I love my job, coworkers and my boss (so) it doesn’t feel like a job,” Rountree said. “I think Rita’s has helped with college and career preparedness due to learning responsibility. Also, it helps me learn to balance everything I have and how to make sure it is all done right and not just enough to make it pass.”

Chemistry teacher Jean Mihelcic agrees with the positives of participating or even just finding potential summer opportunities. As one of the teachers involved in posting on the Schoology group Summer Science Opportunities, she feels that summer activities provide the perfect opportunity for students to find themselves.

“Even if you don’t get into a program, I think just looking for (one) is a good exercise because it really helps you hone down what your interests are for the future,” Mihelcic said. 

While personal motivations are the major reason behind students’ summer activities, students also feel outside pressure to stay active during the summer. As seen in Figure (insert number here), as students grow older, 84% of respondents felt increased pressure to have more meaningful and productive summers. When asked why they felt this increasing pressure, 46% of respondents mentioned either college, money or parents as their answer. 

One facet of this growing stress is standardized testing, with many students feeling the need to attend preparation camps or to get a tutor. Sophomore Kara Manoff is planning to attend a SAT preparation camp in hopes of getting a better score.

“College is coming up very fast and I don’t know if I would be able to make it to where I want to go if my scores aren’t relatively good,” Manoff said.

Chowdhury is also preparing for the SATs this summer.

“Besides the debate camp, my parents are sending me to (a) tutor for the SATs,” Chowdhury said. “I think there’s always that pressure to stay productive during the summer so you don’t fall behind and it’s easy to fall behind in a school like ’Stoga where everyone is always pushing to do their best.” 

Even for Troy, sports camps provides a dual benefit of not only keeping fit but also increased visibility in the athletic scouting process.

“I’m looking to continue on playing soccer through college and going to ID camps helps get my name out there,” Troy said. “Obviously, with me being a senior next year, there is some pressure to stay busy over the summer; you always have to be running to do college tours, meet the coaches and the ID Camps are critical over this summer.” 

Security guard Joann Yusko started girls lacrosse club Phantastix Lacrosse 23 years ago and agrees with the role that sports camp play in athlete recruitment. 

“On the girls end, as they get older when they become recruitable athletes basically they go to tournaments to be exposed and to be showcased,” Yusko said. “Every college coach in the country goes to these so because of that the girls play well and they train hard, so they are impressing the coaches so they go on to play in college,” Yusko said. 

Despite this, however, College and Career Transition teacher Rachel Reavy emphasizes the importance of doing summer activities for personal interest rather than just for a college application.

“Our department really emphasizes authenticity. Authenticity means doing what you enjoy and getting a real satisfaction from what you’re doing so not doing something for a college application,” Reavy said.  “Most summer programs are not going to be a deciding factor for a student getting into college, so we really want students seeking opportunities where they are finding real happiness in what they’re doing.”

According to Reavy, this authenticity is what truly shows.

“In the college application process, that’s what comes through. If you’re not doing what you love it’s evident to adults that that’s the case,” Reavy said.

Another concept that Reavy focused on for summer activities was the idea of recharging.

“During the school year, students are inundated with work and music and sports and clubs and there’s so much going on that during the summer it’s time to catch your breath,” Kratsa said.

With 75% of respondents planning to travel this summer, it’s clear that travelling is a popular way to relax during the summer. 

Every year, the family of freshman Jack Semmer and junior Jamie Semmer travel to foreign countries. This year they plan to visit Australia before flying to the tropical island of Fiji. 

“We chose to travel this summer because it’s something we like to do as a family and it’s fun to explore the world,” Jamie Semmer said. “It’s something we are able to look back on and we make amazing memories.”

And traveling can prove to be rewarding beyond just relaxation. 

“In previous summers, I have learned about the culture in other parts of the world, and how people in the world are different, but also the same,” Jack Semmer said.

Overall, summer activities prove to be a way for students to explore their interests while still having time to relax.

“I think that students are over scheduled many times during the school year and that’s just what it is. Students are in school from 7 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon and they have homework to do and then there are things to fit in beyond just school and that could be a lot of different things,” Kratsa said.  “But it’s nice during the summer to slow down a little breath and catch a little breath and refresh time to really do what you love and feel inspired.”