Summer Reading: A Forgotten Program in Need of Change
Coming into ninth grade at Packer, I received my first ever summer reading list. I was never one to love reading, especially when it took up a large portion of my summer. However, I was eager to make a good impression at my new school. I picked classic novels, ones that I had heard of all my life, but never had the chance to pick up. I read them thoroughly, making sure to remember each and every detail. Finally it was time to write my first high school assignment; the summer reading letter was going to be my big entrance, an exquisite piece of literary art.
I spent hours upon hours looking through my books, trying to find quotes and themes that connected the three novels. I crafted a thesis and wrote an analytical paper about the books I read and their relation to me and my interests. Days before school started I timidly sent the email, worried that each word would be harshly critiqued and examined to an extreme level … I never heard about or saw that piece of writing again. No grades were given, no acknowledgements of effort, not even a conversation. I was extremely confused.
While it’s been three years, my confusion with many aspects of the summer reading program still lingers. In my mind, very few people ever do the reading, let alone care about it or spend time writing the letter. To be completely honest, I’m guilty of similar habits. So, I decided to talk to the man who heads the program: Mr. Parson.
“I think it’s important for all of us to focus in on something for a sustained period of time, rather than binge watching something,” said Mr. Parson while discussing the importance of reading for our generation, which is increasingly obsessed with technology and less likely to pick up a book for fun.
The summer reading program is designed to help kids read, bridging the three month gap during which many students forget about school.
“It’s an opportunity for them to choose what they want to read, because during the school year most of their time is taken up by work,” said Mr. Parson. He placed emphasis on the amount of freedom afforded by the program and the wide range of interesting choices.
While the program contains many freedoms and is very beneficial to students, it isn’t completed by a large portion of the Packer student body. In an anonymous survey, I asked students how many books on the summer reading list they read this past summer. The answer I received was not surprising to me, but rather a confirmation of the lackadaisical nature of the program. Nearly two thirds of students responded that they read fewer than the three required books. While the survey was not taken by a large number of students, I believe those numbers would hold up in a school-wide survey. Mr. Parson echoed this fact, saying that while he doesn’t believe the whole Packer community completes the program, “My sense is that everybody reads at least one book.”
In addition to a lack of participation, the program has other faults, the most notable being the end of summer letter. The letter is viewed as an unnecessary part of the program by many. Speaking about the letter, Mr. Parson said, “It is just a way for you to communicate that you did the assignment and introduce yourself to your advisor.” However, an anonymous advisor disagreed with how effective the letter really is.
“I think that the way it’s structured right now, it’s not really meaningful in regards to learning more about kids,” the advisor said.
However, the creation of a new advising system means the letter could soon become a thing of the past, “We want to change that, because now you stay with your advisor,” said Mr. Parson. This change is one of many he has in store for the program.
“I’m interested in creating something that is easy … and having a chance to discuss it together,” said Mr. Parson. “We used to do something called a common read. We’re thinking about creating something like that … around the idea of empathy and understanding other people’s perspectives.” Without a doubt, the summer reading program has some exciting changes in store that will help encourage fun and interesting reading.