I have four children ranging in age from 9-16. Recently, they returned home following an annual summer tradition of going to overnight camp in northern Ontario. The camp they attend is located in a provincial park about 3-1/2 hours north of Toronto. By many standards the sleeping accommodations at this camp are considered rustic. Campers live in cabins or tents without running water or electricity. They eat communally in a dining hall and cook their own meals by fire, every Thursday. There are many other traditions and rituals at camp but perhaps not one as clarifying as the annual canoe trip.
While my children are at camp, they each go on a canoe trip in the provincial park where the camp is located or in one of several others in the provinces of Ontario or Quebec. Each summer these canoe trips add to the defining experiences in their lives and in all ways that I can think of, provide an opportunity for my children to truly understand who they are and what they value.
Going on a canoe trip with four or five other campers and 2 or 3 other counselors, for periods of time that range from 8 days 50 days teaches one in ways that don't exist in a classroom. The time away becomes time that is elongated and punctuated by food drops, kilometers, portages, weather, and relationships. There are so many experiences and competing moments that it is not possible to write a short blog about the significance of such a trip. That will have to wait for another time. What I wanted to highlight was something about how that experience clarifies what is happening all around the country at this time of year.
Many students are going back to school this week or within the next few weeks. As they do so, the ones who are juniors in high school will be confronting a series of decisions as they begin a two-year transition to post-secondary education. This transition actually starts well in advance of their junior year - before they talk with their college adviser, complete their common app, or decide on a major.
For many students and their families the transition from high school to more education is a series of decisions and reactions to whatever the student is going through right now. And now can be in 8th grade, 9th grade, etc.
I'm writing, actually procrastinating, as I prepare for the first day of our ACT workshop designed to prepare our students for the next ACT (on September 8). The timing makes me reflect on the process of getting into post-secondary schools - trade schools, community colleges, four-year colleges and universities... or just getting out of high school and all that entails.
As is true with most things in school, some students study and prepare assiduously whereas for others, the ACT prep is a set of tiny steps, forward and backward, gradually figuring out a process that can feel foreign and uncertain.
I write all this because I realize how demanding the standardized test process is for students and how juxtaposed it is with what they probably want to be doing this time of year.
I am keenly aware that one of the last things students want to do right now is actively recall lateral surface area or which of the following best describes how craters are removed from Europa's surface. I have four children who remind me of that each day. That said, our academic system requires students (particularly juniors in high school) to pay attention to those questions right now.
We need to remember that it is August and while the academic calendar may say, "...back to school," for many in the northern hemisphere, our internal clock still says summer. We need to tread lightly with our students and not try to encourage them to do everything all at once. I think that's an important philosophy to have throughout the year, but particularly so as we transition out of summer. Points of transition are often challenging anyway. Shifting gears and moving from paddling down a lake and worrying about getting to the campsite before dark is unrelated to trying to remember the answer to x = 3 and y = 5, by how much does the value of 3x2 – 2y exceed the value of 2x2 – 3y ? We need to keep this in mind and help our students do the same. I'm hoping that by writing this down I will remember it later today when my students sit down to take a practice test in preparation for the ACT.