There was a time when snow days were celebrated as a respite from school, fun-filled romps that included sledding, snowball fights and binge television-watching.
But in an era of increased academic testing, stacked curricula and virtual learning, many educators and school officials are urging students to continue their schoolwork during snow days to avoid the dreaded “amnesia” that can set in after a few missed days of class.
Schools have closed Friday ahead of the likely-historic winter storm expected to pummel the region, and teachers have sent students home with packets full of work to do, gently prodding them on Twitter to keep up with their studies and offering parents a slew of resources to keep children’s brains active outside the classroom.
With the possibility of as much as two feet of snow and extended school cancelations, educators have real concerns about the academic impact of the closures, which can slow progress and leave struggling students even further behind.
The Arlington Public Schools system, which has equipped many of its students with iPads and laptops, keeps students connected to school through their devices.Even a third-grader can get a message directly from their teacher on a snow day and can complete work on assignments.
“In Arlington, we really are moving towards 24/7 learning,” said Connie Skelton, assistant superintendent of instruction. Year-round, some teachers already use a “flipped classroom” model, in which they deliver lessons through videos and then use class time for assignments and activities.
After the region’s infamous Snowmageddon storms shut schools for days in 2009 and 2010, the school system also created a “Snow Learning Page” on the Web, complete with snow-related learning activities for parents to do with their children. Some suggestions: writing poems about the weather, inventing names for piles of snow in the neighborhood and examining snowflakes under a microscope.
Charles Ronco, who teaches math at Stonewall Jackson High School in Prince William County, said he can’t count on his students to have the technology to be connected at home and estimated that about 15 percent of students at his school do not have a device that would allow them to live-stream or do virtual assignments.
So instead, he sent home a lengthy review sheet with math problems on Wednesday, predicting — accurately — that schools would be closed on Thursday because of icy roads and on Friday for the impending snow. He does not exactly expect that his students will be hunkering down over math homework during the four days they’re out of class, but he hopes that they will do enough to not lose ground.
“That’s about all you can really do: put something in their hand for when the boredom sets in,” said Ronco, who teaches geometry and calculus.
Ronco said that a long stretch of school days off can be compounded because teachers often have to reteach lessons when students return.
“The problem is there’s amnesia that sets in when these kids are out four or five days,” Ronco said.
Even parents of preschoolers are urged to continue classroom lessons at home. To accommodate working parents, Sunshine Early Learning Center in Southeast Washington attempts to stay open even when D.C. Public Schools close, said operations manager Tanetta Merritt. But when it closes its doors, the pre-kindergarten teachers email parents to let them know what their children have been learning and how they can build on the lessons with activities at home. If young students are learning about the color red, for example, a parent can have them point out red objects at home.
Evan Glazer, principal of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, said teachers at the elite magnet school do not give assignments on new material during snow days. While that can create stress for teachers, who worry about how they will cram a year’s worth of advanced curriculum into one shortened by snow days, it is also a bit of a respite for students who will likely be studying and working on long-term projects anyhow, Glazer said.
“We want them to go out and play and make snowmen and snow angels, because it doesn’t happen all that often,” Glazer said. “You might as well take a break when Mother Nature gives you the opportunity.”
Ana Bonilla-Galdamez, a social worker who sees many Spanish-speaking parents at Charles Barrett Elementary in Alexandria, said she always encourages parents to read with their children at home and hopes they will continue that during snow days. But her concerns stretch far beyond the possibility of brain drain: Many of her students rely on the school for warm meals and might not get enough to eat when school is canceled.
“A lot of our kids depend on the school system to have warm breakfasts and lunches,” Bonilla-Galdamez said. She often sends families home with bags of groceries to help them feed their children during school breaks. “When it’s unscheduled like this . . . that’s when I worry.”