And, too, at a time when some educators are alarmed by the ability of chatbots to do students’ work for them, this is a contest that rewards the human touch. As our step-by-step guide to participating shows, what we’re looking for is meaningful personal connections to the news, explored with voice, style and personality — something A.I. can’t (yet?) do with anywhere near the verve of the teenagers we hear from.
Another reason? For some teachers, assigning the contest over the summer helps them to quickly get to know their new students when school starts. In our related webinar, Karen Gold, English department chair at The Governor’s Academy in Byfield, Mass., details how she uses the contest in this way.
But maybe the most compelling reason to assign this contest is what students themselves say about it. At the end of the summer of 2020, many teenagers told us that the weekly reading and writing helped them through a difficult time. For instance, a participant named Ava wrote:
This year’s summer reading contest has helped me learn not only about the world around me, but about myself. After seeing other students’ responses on race, the teenage experience, and the coronavirus, I felt a little less alone about my complicated feelings during this tumultuous year. After all, there has never been a time in my life during which it’s been easier to fall into social isolation. However, because the articles I chose to write about were those that I could easily relate to and express my opinion on, I found comfort in my weekly submissions.
In 2017, Emma Weber, a student from London, posted that, thanks to the contest, “I feel grounded in my views and understand what’s going on in the world. It’s amazing what a change 1,500 characters a week make.” In 2020 we invited Emma to help judge the entries, and here is what she had to say after Week 10:
I know firsthand that the Summer Reading Contest has the ability to change the way one engages in the news — I went from passively reading to actively thinking and questioning. The more you reflect on what is going on in the world and what interests you about it, the more you will understand your place within it. I urge all those who enjoyed participating this summer to continue reading, reflecting and writing.
Thank you for making this contest a hit year after year, and please spread the word that it’s back for its 14th season.
How to Submit