Gimme a break

George Brown one of 16 Ontario colleges that retained winter reading week

Consequences of the five-week college strike will continue to be felt as the school year moves along. But for some students, this might be especially true when the winter intersession week happens, or not, at their college. 

The week-long winter break, also called reading week, was cancelled at eight out of 24 Ontario colleges as they reshaped their academic schedules coming out of the strike. 

Some of the schools that cancelled the full break, like Fanshawe and Durham Colleges, have opted to extend the Family Day long weekend instead of the full week-long break. Others, like St. Clair and Confederation College will keep a one-week break, but it won’t begin until March as the winter semester started later. 

George Brown College (GBC) is keeping the intersession week as scheduled from Feb. 26 to March 2. But back in November, the college announced that it planned on cancelling the break. The decision to reinstate the week came after pushback from the Student Association of GBC, which funds The Dialog, including an open letter to the college’s senior management.  

“We did originally think about canceling the winter break week but we had several consultation meetings with our SA, and they felt strongly that the week should be kept in,” said GBC president Anne Sado. “And they mentioned student mental health as a strong reason for maintaining the break, so we decided to do it.”

Many studies have found a link between taking breaks, mental health and productivity. Some post-secondary schools have added a fall break in recent years to help students. 

A Queen’s University task force recently found that the number of students seeking support from student wellness services increased significantly beginning around week six of the fall term. In a survey of just over 7,200 students, faculty, and staff, 34 per cent ranked a fall term break as most important over orientation days, pre-exam study days, and instructional days. The 2017 report recommended implementing a two-day break on the Thursday and Friday of week seven for next year. 

Tiffany White, the SA’s director of education, said that the intersession week is not just a break but an chance for students to catch up.

“A lot of students have different learning styles,” she said. “For myself, I know I use that week to catch up on things like any assignments that are coming up that I haven’t had time to work on because I’ve been too busy studying for the five tests I have that week.”

For colleges that are not having the winter intersession week, the reasons vary. Dan Lessard, Cambrian’s manager of communications, said the college was concerned about extending the school year beyond April.

“We canceled the winter intersession to help avoid having to extend the academic year into May, which students indicated would be a greater burden than missing a spring break,” he said. “We also used the occasion to recoup some class time.”

As for implementing some of the alternatives to a week-long break at GBC, Sado said that the college was aware of other models but choose, “what we thought would work best for us.”Having the one-week recess can also offer other positive options for GBC students, according to Tenniel Rock, manager of counselling and student well-being at the college. 

“Students are like ‘I actually now have time to come to a Peerconnect workshop. I actually now have time to access counselling,” she said. “So it’s a really important time in college for people to be able to take stock of what’s going on, maybe get some extra support and then figure out how they’re going to manage the rest of the semester.”

See every college’s intersession week schedule here

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Gimme a break