It’s hot out there, but high-schoolers keep hitting the books

Summer assignments at area schools are rigorous, especially for students in AP classes.

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 565-page “Crime and Punishment” is required reading this summer for some Snohomish High School advanced-placement students. (Simon & Schuster)

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 565-page “Crime and Punishment” is required reading this summer for some Snohomish High School advanced-placement students. (Simon & Schuster)

Read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 565-page “Crime and Punishment” and complete a two-part writing assignment. Make sure it’s typed. And get busy — it’s due the first day of school.

Or there’s this: “Predict the empirical formula for the ionic compound formed from each of the following pairs of elements: (a) Na and S, (b) Ca and F, (c) Mg and O, (d) Al and O, (e) Be and S, (f) Li and N.”

And you Everett, Cascade and Jackson high students, finish two books this summer. Then log on and take Accelerated Reader quizzes.

Summer is a time of rigorous academic assignments, rather than the lazy days I enjoyed in high school. I had jobs, but all the reading I did during those early 1970s summers was for pleasure.

Today, local high schools list summer assignments on their websites. For students taking Advanced Placement courses, summer assignments can be as tough as college course work. After all, kids who do well on AP exams earn college credits.

Looking at Glacier Peak High School’s summer assignment list — which includes work for an Advanced Molecular Biology for Global Health course — I saw that even art students have time-consuming tasks.

“I do impress on students that working harder now is ultimately making the transition into full-time college more seamless,” said Rob Sumner, who teaches AP literature and composition at Snohomish High School. He’s teaching “Crime and Punishment.”

“That one is challenging,” Sumner said. Students typically don’t seek out books by “old, dead, major Russian writers.” Students tell him they’ve never read a book like “Crime and Punishment,” which centers around poor young Raskolnikov’s killing of an old woman, a pawnbroker, and the nightmarish guilt-ridden aftermath. The assignment includes analytical writing.

“These are intelligent, motivated students who willingly opted into taking a more challenging course,” Sumner said. For most, the effort is aimed at college admission and credit.

Sumner said students talk with him about anxiety over getting into their desired universities. “There is more pressure. You have to kind of be a renaissance man or woman to get into some of these schools,” he said.

In the Everett School District, there are AP summer assignments, plus all Cascade, Everett and Jackson high school students are required to read two books and take online quizzes.

“The pressure is pretty high, and the same is true of the world,” said Mary Waggoner, an Everett district spokeswoman. “Things have changed.”

Officially, Waggoner said, none of the summer academic work can be “required” — students can’t be graded for doing or not doing it. The assignments address what educators call the “summer slide,” she said. As for the online Accelerated Reading tests, Waggoner said students have access to school libraries and public libraries for internet access during summer.

About 40 percent of students in Everett’s high schools take at least one AP class, said Jeanne Willard, director of college and career readiness and on-time graduation for the district.

In 2017, the Everett School District earned a spot on the AP District Honor Roll. That listing recognized both an increase in the numbers of students taking AP classes and a rise in students of color doing well on AP exams. For the past five years, Everett district students have self-selected AP courses, rather than being recommended for them by the school, Willard said.

During the summer, some teachers present AP “boot camps,” Willard said. “Most of the work assigned over the summer isn’t so much about a grade,” she said. “It’s really about staying academically engaged over the summer.”

Jeff Riechel teaches AP chemistry at Glacier Peak. He takes an old-school approach to summer assignments. Students are asked to mail their completed work, week by week, to his home — and include a self-addressed stamped envelope.

With the work done on paper, he said, “I can see what the kids are doing.”

A teacher for 33 years, Riechel said he has 35 students in AP chemistry and had to turn kids away. “It’s amazing that so many kids want to subject themselves to this,” he said. Riechel previously taught at Marysville Pilchuck High School, where he said few students wanted to take AP chemistry.

The timing of AP exams figures into the need for summer work. “The AP exam is done by the College Board, and the national testing date is in May,” Riechel said. With some parts of the country starting school in August, those students complete their course before the exam. By working during the summer, his students get a head start, too.

Riechel, too, sees pressures today that he never experienced. A 1979 graduate of Kentridge High School in Kent, he worked summers for a furniture production business. Were there any school assignments? “Nothing,” he said.

Checking chemistry assignments takes Riechel a couple of hours each week. “They’re going to be held to these standards on the test. I’m agreeing to get those kids ready for that exam,” he said. “It is a privilege to teach these kids.”

Sumner will wait for the first day of school to look at what his Snohomish students write about the Dostoevsky novel.

“I’ll have papers larger than ‘Crime and Punishment’ to get through,” he said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

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