At the start of the 2019-20 school year, IMSA implemented a policy stating that teachers cannot assign homework to be due either during extended breaks and cannot require major assessments from students on the first day back from break.
IMSA is a residential school, but about every six weeks, students are required to be off-campus for at least a few days. These breaks are referred to as extended weekends, or “extendeds”. The time is used for faculty training and development, as well as maintenance of campus buildings. However, until this school year, students received homework over these breaks.
During the 2018-19 school year, Dr. Amber Pareja, Director of the Office of Institutional Research, and Ms. Katie Berger, Associate Director of Student Life, led a Year of Inquiry into the issue of IMSA students’ mental health. At the end of the year, the team produced a threefold proposal to improve mental health on campus. The points are reproduced below from Berger’s recent email to the IMSA community.
- Implement an Academy Major Assessments Master Calendar
- No homework assigned over Extended Weekends and no major assessments on the first day of class following Extended Weekend
- Increase focus on sleep education and incentivize positive sleep behaviors
Like the no-homework-over-extendeds policy, the Major Assessments Master Calendar is another initiative to reduce stress and improve mental health on campus. The third point is something that, according to Berger, will be implemented in stages throughout the school year.
Below is the full list of dates covered by the policy (i.e. no homework can be assigned/due during these times):
- October 10th-14th, 2019
- November 26th-December 1st, 2019
- February 13th-17th, 2020
- March 13th-22nd, 2020
- April 9th-13th, 2020
Students and teachers have mixed feelings about officially limiting the times when homework can be assigned.
Dr. Sheilla Wille, the Curriculum Assessment Leader of the history/social science department, said, “It can be a pain for teachers to schedule homework around extendeds. But [if it means] you can have that time to spend with your family, then we’re happy to do that. You’re not college students; you should be able to just relax and have family time.”
The policy has received support from teachers who are IMSA alumi and understand the stress of homework pileup. Ms. Julie Dowling, IMSA Class of ’99 and math department Curriculum Assessment Leader, stated that she has never assigned homework over extended breaks. “As a former IMSA student, I can say that…it’s an extended, and you should be sleeping, eating, and spending time with family – not worrying about problem sets.” She added that second-semester juniors and seniors often do college visits over extendeds, so the new policy could benefit upperclassmen in particular.
Ms. Marti Shirley, IMSA Class of ’00, related her personal experience of living far away from IMSA, so when she received homework over extendeds, she found it difficult to get help from others.
Students aren’t nearly as focused on the “extra family time” benefit, but Bopo Taiwo (’20) commented, “I actually really like the idea. I don’t care about having homework due on the first day back, or the second day back…I just like having no homework during the actual extended.”
Paola Padilla (’21) was more hesitant, saying, “I get why they implemented it, but I feel like it’ll just make homework pile up. I don’t think teachers are actually going to cut down on the work, they’ll just move it around before and after extendeds.”
Likewise, physics teacher Dr. Hawker expressed a more neutral standpoint. “I understand that students want to have certain days that are just completely off from school, but I think there needs to be discussion about how that actually occurs. On some level, it’s a good idea…but I think [the results] could be good or could be bad.”
Another consideration is that some teachers already rearrange assignments on student request, such as minimizing assessment deadlines in early November, to work around the Early Decision application due dates. Throwing in more dates where teachers aren’t allowed to assign homework “might not just be a pain to schedule; it might force them to cut content from the curriculum,” English teacher Dr. Leah Kind pointed out.
Dr. Kind went on to state her opinion that “[the policy] will just cause more problems for students when they get back. Scheduling will be difficult to manage. And I just wonder what we’re supposed to do on that first day back if students haven’t done any readings…for the past five days.”
Addressing concerns about potential implementation flaws, Dr. Wille encouraged students encountering problems to “tell somebody. It’s a pilot program, so if there are issues, tell the dean or the principal’s office or something, and we’ll discuss how best to address that problem. This is a new thing for us as well.”