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My summer is no vacation

Overcrowding at Marshall High School has forced Lia, 17, to attend school during the summer, which she clearly doesn

“So Michelle, Carla and I went to the mall today,” my friend tells me on the phone.

“And you didn’t invite me?” I whine.

“You’re in school.”

“Oh. Right. Thanks for reminding me.”

She laughs. “C-track.”

“Shut up, A-trash,” I say.

I’ve had this conversation countless times since I started at Marshall High School three years ago. It’s overcrowded so to compensate, the 4,000 students are divided into three tracks. Each track has a separate vacation schedule to stagger the number of students on campus. But even with the track system many teachers do not have classrooms and have to move to a different room each period.

Students are assigned their track by zip code. A-track is lucky because their schedule most closely resembles the traditional calendar and they get the summer off.

I’m on C-track. I go to school from July through October, have off during November and December, go back from January through April, and am off again in May and June. This schedule clashes with normal activities like having the summer to hang out with friends.

I miss my summer vacations. In elementary and middle school I used them for catching up on missed sleep. Now during the summer, by the time my A-track friends (and traditional calendar friends from other schools) wake up at noon, I have already sat through chemistry, English, U.S. history and a service period, and been assigned at least three hours of homework. In class, I think about my friends having fun at the beach or at Disneyland and wish I was with them. It might sound like whining, but I think I deserve some vacation time to sleep in and see my friends.

We’re supposed to get vacation in May, June, November and December, but this year, I had to take my Spanish class on A-track so that I could fit AP Chemistry into my schedule. I wanted to show colleges that I challenged myself. So during the two months that A-track was on vacation and C-track was in school, I had a free period, but when C-track was off, I had to come in for fourth period during my vacation like a traditional calendar student taking summer school. I couldn’t take the Spanish class during my free period because on C-track it was only offered at a time that conflicted with my English class. It’s wasn’t a lot of work, but I had planned to visit colleges over the breaks and couldn’t because I had to go to class. It’s funny that I took the class on A-track to pad my college application but was prevented from figuring out which colleges I wanted to apply to because I had to go to class.

The multi-track schedule also makes the school seem less like a community. Our Homecoming dance takes place after C-track finishes its fall semester, and I’ve never gone. Graduation takes place at then end of June, after C-track has been finished with school for two months. Next year, I might not go to graduation because I want to study in China so that I can improve my Mandarin. Besides, since I don’t know most of the people at school, I don’t really care about celebrating the end of high school with them. While these things might not seem like a big deal, events like homecoming and graduation help to create school spirit and give students other memories of their school besides just academics.

Now, I’m not sure that being on a traditional calendar would create more school spirit, but if we were all on the same schedule, we would probably see each other more and feel like we have more in common. There are at least a thousand students at my school that I’ve never seen and probably would not be able to identify as people from school if you put them in front of me.

Multi-track schools also harm students’ academic performance. Because we have to go to school during the summer, B- and C-trackers don’t have the same chance as A-trackers to participate in summer enrichment programs like college prep programs. This year, my school offered applications for a college writing class at USC. I saw the flier at my school’s college center and was excited about applying. My school doesn’t offer the best English classes, and I know that I need to improve my essay writing before I go to college. Then I saw that the class was going to take place in July, the same month that I start my “fall” semester. I was disappointed. There are very few programs like the USC program that are available to students in year-round schools. There aren’t enough multi-track schools for other institutions to accommodate us.

But as much as I complain about C-track, because our spring semester ends in May, we are the only track whose courses end in time for AP tests. For B-track, there is a two-month break before the AP tests, so teachers have to cram in material in a shorter period of time. Then, for both A- and B- track, there is no more material to teach in the two months after AP testing. An A-track friend told me that in one of her classes, all they did was watch movies after the AP tests were over. I think that not having anything to teach after AP tests sends the wrong message to students—like the only part of school that’s important is passing tests, and the rest of the time, it’s all right to slack off.

Although I don’t know anyone on B-track, the schedule seems like it would be difficult to learn in non-AP classes. Their fall semester begins in July, but they take a two-month break during September and October and resume their fall semester in November. The semester finishes at the end December, but their spring semester starts immediate in January and breaks half way through in March before starting again in May. I wonder how the school district thought it was possible for B-trackers to learn with such a disrupted schedule.

Because their calendar makes it so difficult to learn, B-track has earned the reputation for being “the slow track.” I had one teacher who would tell us to stop acting like B-track whenever the class got too loud or did poorly on a test. At first, I laughed whenever she said things like that, but later, I realized I probably wouldn’t be able to learn as well if I were on the B-track schedule. Still sometimes, when my school friends do something stupid, I tell them they look like B-trackers. I know it’s rude, but at our school, B-track has just become another slang term for stupid.

I’m glad most LAUSD schools are returning to traditional calendars. Multi-track calendars hurt students socially and academically, and the sooner we get off that type of schedule, the better so that in the future, students like me can enjoy the summer with their friends.

Other stories by this writer …

Not so fast. Driving on scary hills and busy streets put a brake on 17-year-old Lia’s plan to get a license. (May – June 2009)

What was I thinking? Hormones were to blame for 16-year-old Lia’s crush on a jerk. (November – December 2008)

Shattering Stereotypes. Lia, 16, says recognizing our prejudices will help us eliminate them. (September 2008)