The first semester of what, for 75% of the student population at Concord Academy, is their first complete academic year of high school is coming to a close. This is creating a time of reflection on this new “normal,” and the hopefully “normal,” spring semester that is to follow.
That being said, this time is being used by many students — in particular Juniors, who are the one upperclassmen class to not experience a full year of in-person high school — to reflect on their comfortability with their workload and the academic pressures being put on them.
The current weekly CA homework guidelines, posted on CA Connect are listed as such:
12th grade: 4 hours for majors, 2.5 hours for minors.
11th grade: 4 hours for majors, 2.5 hours for minors.
10th grade: 3.5 hours for majors, 2.25 hours for minors.
9th grade: 3 hours for majors, 2 hours for minors.
Neva Gonzalez ’23 spoke on this guideline, explaining the unrealistic expectations it creates for students each night. “Personally, I play a varsity sport, and so directly after school I have a two hour practice. I end at 5:30 — I am a day student so I take the train, but the next train isn’t until 6:15 — so then I go eat dinner at school, take the train, I walk home, and I’ll get home at around 7:00.”
Neva lives a typical life for a CA student. With an estimated 100 students that take the train each
day, and the CA athletic requirements that require upperclassmen participate in two seasons of athletics while underclassmen participate in three, her struggle with getting home is not uncommon. With all of this information being known by CA faculty, Neva explained her frustration with these homework guidelines. “If I get home at around 7:00 and then immediately do homework the whole time without showering, or eating, or even talking to my family…” she paused, “I just don’t do that. I like to go home and relax for at least ten minutes and I can’t do that. I feel like I’m not managing my time wisely when I try to have an hour for myself when I get home.”
If Neva were to follow her ideal strict schedule of doing work the moment she got home — having 5 majors and 2 minors, in addition to taking an SAT preparatory class that was suggested by the school — she would most likely be working until 10:00 or 11:00 at night, then having to wake up at 6:00 in order to get to school on time — a total of 7 hours of sleep with no downtime.
Neva explained “I think most of my classes actually are fine with following the homework guidelines, some of them might go over, but the combined workload — it doesn’t even matter if it’s within the homework guidelines — for me, the combined workload is just too much.”
Similarly, Claire Carson ’23, who admitted to having an arguably less stressful academic year that she feels most of her peers are having, explained that “there is a culture at CA of students keeping quiet about their homework loads and general school stress, because many students feel as though it is ‘lazy’ to ask their teachers for an extension or push back against homework assignments that exceed limits.” Claire continued to emphasize the narrative of the unspoken student self comparison within the school community, summarizing that “there is a general stigma around reaching out to teachers about homework and test stress, since many students believe that reaching out means that they can’t handle the ‘academic rigor’ of CA.”
While few students would deny Claire’s point about this silent but powerful stigma, it raises the question: should students have to worry about having to advocate for balance in their lives constantly, or should the school take more responsibility? Claire worries that “teachers have taken the class’ concerns with the amount of work personally, instead of looking at the students’ concerns from their points of view and understanding how excessive homework can erode mental health.”
Neva touched on the same subject of mental health, stating, “I feel like there’s a lot of pressure this year and next year to do well in classes and homework is a part of that.” She finalized her statement about the concerns she shares surrounding all of this academic pressure that continues at her home, explaining, “the work that I am turning in right now is just the bare minimum because I don’t have the time to live up to what I could be doing. I feel like I can’t win in this situation.”
At a school whose mission statement highlights their community’s “love of learning,” it seems counterintuitive to be assigning so much work that being passionate about it doesn’t fit in this learning schedule. So, in response to the students that feel like they can’t win, what does the school feel like should win? Quality? Quantity? Emotional health?