Put down that snowball! The internet deleted the snow day.

Education
by Laura Edghill
Posted 11/18/14, 02:45 pm

Students might soon have to give up their cherished snow days thanks to the ubiquitousness of something else they love—technology.

November’s arctic weather has already forced school closings in the upper Midwest and Northeast. Last year’s brutal cold and snow left numerous schools around the country creatively stacking minutes onto May days, taking back scheduled spring breaks and reluctantly adding extra days well into summer vacation. Still reeling from last year’s experience, many schools are taking a fresh look at what they can actually accomplish when students are snowbound.

One private Minnesota high school has already put its students on notice—snow days do not equal endless sledding, snow fort wars, and hot chocolate mustaches. St. Cloud Cathedral High School tested its virtual class day earlier this month. When unseasonably winter weather forced a closure, students were instructed to log in via their school-issued laptops and tablets to get their assignments. 

“This is what we will be doing every single snow day going forward,” Cathedral Principal Lynn Grewing said. “I’ll be honest. There has been some grumbling.” 

Cathedral senior Tommy Auger said the virtual day didn’t feel much different from a day in class. After overcoming initial disappointment, he said he and his friends agree the alternative of extra days at the end of the school year makes it worth it.

“It’s hard to think ahead, but it’s definitely better,” Auger said.

Teachers posted coursework online for the students and some even uploaded videos to help illustrate tricky concepts. Grewing declared the test run a success.

And it’s not just private schools taking back the lost instructional time. Some public schools are jumping on board as well. 

“I had a few students email me on one of the first snow days last year,” said Jarod McGuffey, a sixth grade teacher at Fraser Public Schools in Fraser, Mich. “They said they were bored.”

McGuffey responded by providing some web-based resources, and encouraged the students to investigate them. 

“The next thing I know, two more kids emailed me to ask what they could do,” McGuffey said. As the word spread, more and more students contacted McGuffey, until he had heard from his entire class. At that point, he said he had an “aha moment.”

“This is crazy that we’re not taking advantage of snow days,” he said. “Why aren’t we?” 

More than 75 percent of U.S. households have at least one computer, and more than 71 percent have access to the internet, according to the 2011 census. That means even in schools where students do not have a school-issued device, most have access to the internet. 

And for those with no internet access, Iowa has a solution—“blizzard bags.” More than half the state’s public school districts have virtual plans available for those students with internet at home, but the “blizzard bags” provide an alternative for those lacking access, according to Iowa Department of Education spokesman John Charlton.

For public schools, alternative instruction on snow days does not typically count as actual “seat time,” so while learning continues, states may need to retool legislation to account for virtual snow day instruction. As it stands, even if schools use the time productively, they face challenges getting their states to recognize snow days as valid school days.

Regardless of whether they’ll be playing in the snow or solving algebraic equations, kids around the country likely will continue to sleep with spoons under their pillows or wear their pajamas inside out in the hopes of making it snow. If that early morning call comes, at least they can go to “school” in those pajamas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Laura Edghill

Laura Edghill is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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