By Nick Yates, ISB Communications
Mina K, grade 12, took advantage of some breathing space to write supplemental college application essays. Ray K, also grade 12, spent his free time practicing for the auditions he will face applying for college theater programs. Meanwhile, International School of Beijing (ISB) High School sports teams represented ISB at home and around the Asia Pacific in baseball, rugby, tennis, volleyball, and cross-country tournaments.
High School students have just enjoyed a Homework Free Weekend, intended to provide them with an opportunity to catch up on overdue work, make progress on longer-term assignments, or just recharge their batteries. The idea of teachers not assigning routine daily homework is based on ISB's Whole Child approach, which values young learners' physical and social-emotional health along with their academic performance.
At any school, it can be tempting to focus full time on academics and preparing for exams. However, there is a huge body of research suggesting that being allowed to take a break makes students of all ages more effective learners as well as bolstering their health.
This is ISB's fourth year of enforcing Homework Free Weekends in the High School. For High School Principal David Munro, it has been one of a number of strategic and timetabling decisions taken to ease the pressure on students and give them more choice in their work-life balance. He said that this is especially important for more senior students as they study towards the International Baccalaureate, the world's toughest college preparatory course.
Another example of this strategy at ISB is giving grade-12 students the choice of whether to go on the High School's annual Experiential Learning Opportunity field trips or stay at home and focus on academic work. All but one of the more than 110 students in grade 12 opted not to go on the trips this year so they could have more time for exam preparation or other activities of their choice, according to Mr. Munro.
"There's a need for kids to get ahead on work and have a breather. I feel it's our job to give them that breather," he said.
ISB High School counselors, including Sommer Blohm (fourth from left)
ISB's High School counselors also believe strongly in Homework Free Weekends. "As much as we're committed to supporting the intellectual growth of our students, we also feel that it is essential for them to develop their non-academic interests and human capacities," said Counselor Sommer Blohm.
"To put it simply, we value their development as a whole person and their ability to engage fully in all opportunities that they are presented with in life. Students not only need breaks to give their brains time to cement all of their learning, but also in this increasingly busy world they can greatly benefit from having some downtime, giving them the space to learn how to develop healthy habits that will keep them feeling energized and fulfilled."
Ms. Blohm encourages parents to support Homework Free Weekends. "As adults, we know that life is so much more than work, work, work and that we feel most fulfilled when we are connected to others and taking care of ourselves in ways that nourish our well-being," she said. "Our children need to know that they are so much more than their academic selves and that we value them for every aspect of their unique individuality."
Robin Barker is an ISB alumni (1997-1999) and now works as a senior mental health nurse in child and adolescent mental health services in England. He noted how important it was that Homework Free Weekends are officially endorsed and promoted by teachers.
"We all need to really prioritize sometimes giving our brains a break, allowing ourselves time to switch off and recharge. The question is whether you can enforce it on yourself. When you're in an environment with a lot of academic pressure, someone saying 'We need you to take a break this weekend' is really helpful," Mr. Barker said.
Asked whether he wished ISB had this policy in place when he was a student here in the 1990s, this independent children's mental health professional replied that he managed to take a healthy number of Homework Free Weekends unsanctioned by teachers. Whether it's done with the backing of the school or at students' own discretion, it's clear that time away from academic pressure can be a very good thing.