By Dani Langvin – July 2013
It’s time to think outside the igloo. We, here in the Merrimack Valley, live in an area of extreme weather patterns. Summers can be excessively hot and wet or dry, and winters are snowy and unpredictable. Because of these extremes, schools have been shut down due to flooding (a whole week in May 2006), freezing rain and snow. During the 2009-2010 school year, Methuen schools had so many snow days that it made two of them up during Saturdays. This past year, Methuen had well over the allotted five calamity days built into the school year because of bad weather.
Once districts are over those five days, they need to make up the extra days missed. How is this done? They tack them onto the end of the school year when the sun is shining, temperatures are inching toward ninety degrees, children have shut down and teachers’ nerves are frayed beyond recognition. Every one knows the “time on learning” during those make up days at the end of the year do not compare to what could have been accomplished had those ‘snow days’ never occurred. It’s a new day; it’s a new dawn; it’s time to give snow days a new life.
After being subjected to excessive snow days one year, the Kearsarge Regional School District in New Hampshire came up with the idea of Blizzard Bags in 2009. (It’s not really a bag; it’s just a fun title). Blizzard Bags are developed by each teacher during professional development days for their students. Each bag contains three days worth of assignments to be completed during ‘snow days’ that have exceeded the five built in calamity days. The work is related to what the students are learning in each of their classes, and is equal to or greater than the amount of instructional time spent in the classroom for each subject over the course of three days. Every student will receive a Blizzard Bag by a designated date, preferably before extreme weather begins like in late October or early November.
This allows parents and their children to look through the ‘bag’ and familiarize themselves with what the lessons entail and their objectives. When a ‘snow day’ is declared school districts will remind students that they are to complete the designated assignments. There is no interruption in learning and teachers must participate, too.
What are the nuts and bolts of Blizzard Bags?
First of all, the lessons are teacher developed, curriculum based and related to the Common Core Standards. Lessons will be updated and replaced as necessary based on the instructional progress of students. Most of it is done online with the teachers being available throughout the day to respond to student’s questions, concerns and input. So, the students and their teachers are working. For those students who do not have access to the internet, hard copies of the lessons are included in the bags.
Students are given two weeks from the day the lesson is posted to complete the work. Those without internet access will be given time in school to complete the lessons so that they, too, can have input from their teachers. It also solves the power outage problem, too. As long as 80% of the students in a district complete the work in the allotted time, then it counts as a school day. This means that it won’t be added to the end of the school year. Students who do not complete the work will not be given credit, and will receive an incomplete or failing grade. As far as I can tell, however, nothing has been mentioned in districts that have adopted this about how those students who do complete the work will be credited if, in fact, less than 80% complete it. I’m sure that can be worked out.
This educator and parent thinks Blizzard Bags make sense. It is an innovative and progressive way to fix an antiquated and broken system. In an era where technology is everywhere, it seems silly that we don’t use it to keep kids on task and teachers working during designated school days that are interrupted by bad weather. The New Hampshire Department of Education has opened this program up to all of its districts, yet only a handful of them and a few charters schools have adopted it. Ohio, too, has initiated this program. These sound to me like forward thinking school systems who want to take advantage of the time in which students are most likely to be engaged. I believe it would be a great fit for Methuen.
Naturally, like any new idea, it will have its kinks that need to be straightened out, it’s supporters and it’s naysayers. I’m sure students would be the loudest objectors. No amount of spoons under the bed, or pajamas worn inside out and backwards, would matter in bringing on a snow day when they have work they have to complete anyway. Some parents will applaud the idea while others will most assuredly complain. The same goes for teachers, too. Regardless of how people feel, it is a school district’s obligation to keep time on learning consistent and meaningful. Methuen’s philosophy states, “The school system must continually strive to create, implement, and improve programs that are compatible with appropriate curricula and provide opportunities for innovation in teaching and learning.” Not only that one of Methuen’s district goals is to, “Provide, supervise, and support effective instruction that communicates high expectations and that meets the needs of all learners.” Nothing says this better than letting our students know that learning doesn’t stop because of bad weather.