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That Mountain Air

Dr. Randy Watts
This got me thinking… why do we have summer break, anyway?! (I’m not being rhetorical, I promise.)
When we reached Walker’s Knob, what lay before us was a panorama of magnificent mountain vistas and rolling hills. It was a view so breathtaking, we sat for several minutes before we could utter a word, enveloped in air too pure to be natural. The word “awesome” is overused, but…

That hike up Graybeard Mountain had taken longer than expected. While life during the academic year often requires activities to be measured by the minute, thankfully, this vacation allowed days in which a lone activity filled the to-do list. The hike intended to take an hour that grew into a nine-mile endeavour posed no challenge to our schedule that day.

This got me thinking… why do we have summer break, anyway?! (I’m not being rhetorical, I promise.)

Summer vacation dates are rooted in the weather more than anything else. At the turn of the last century, as booming urban construction provided for less ventilation, schools became like veritable brain kilns. Just imagining trying to concentrate in Crozer Hall in August without air conditioning could make one’s sweat glands weep.

I’ve heard people suggest that the reason for the three-month break in the summer is a relic of our region’s agrarian roots, for children to be free to tend to family farm. Not so: farming seasons are in the spring and fall; rural schools of the mid-1800s tended to have vacations during those times and urban schools were usually in session year-round. (Anyone want to add eighty extra days to the academic calendar to match the 260 days of school offered in Detroit in 1842?)

Many American schools have tried a year-round school approach, with multiple small vacations throughout the year, in lieu of the long summer stretch. While students do forget about one month of learning in the three months that they are out of school in the summer, there has not been much evidence that the year-round system is superior. If anything, it seems to promote student and teacher burnout.

Honestly, I could find no rationale grounded in academic pedagogy to explain summer vacation.

More than anything else, I’m asked why we come back to school so early. Students and parents alike don’t ask why summer vacation is so long, but why it has to end so soon!

When Brookwood’s students return to school on August 10, they will have made new friends, enjoyed unique learning experiences, developed new skills, tested their independence at sleepaway camp, and found that a few days at home without much to do compelled them to create their own fun (or maybe even miss school: Wishful thinking?). Whether their adventures occurred in South Georgia or Southern Italy, they will renew their ties with old friends through new stories.

And for teachers and us administrator-types, the chance to breathe fresh air from the top of a mountain provides us the repose needed to be at the top of our game for the next nine months.

If your children are going to go to school (in this part of the world*, anyway) perhaps spending most of August in an air-conditioned classroom is not such a bad idea.

See you soon!
Dr. Watts
*I know that there are some of you out there who would like for school to start after Labor Day. The reason why we start in August is so that there is an even number of days in the first and second semesters. If we started later, kids in the Middle and Upper School would have to take their exams after the Christmas Break. That is about the Grinchiest thing that I can imagine!
Located in Thomasville, GA, Brookwood School is a private school for grades JK-12. Students benefit from a challenging academic program, fine and performing arts, competitive athletics, and a wide selection of extracurricular activities.