When the severe weather alert flashes on the television screen and across the top of the Weather Channel app in February, every kid starts praying that the weather gets worse. They set their alarms for 5 a.m., hoping that when they look at their phone or computer screen they see their school among those on the snow day list. Anyone who grew up in the North knows the sheer joy that comes from an unexpected winter day off from school. Whether that means sleeping in, meeting friends at the park with sled in tow, or just a day off from schoolwork, snow days are a rare treat and a special part of school culture in the United States. In the dark, short days of winter, it’s these days that often give a boost to students—and teachers—as they wait for spring.
Anderson County School District 5, in South Carolina, announced this week that they would be getting rid of snow days and replacing them with “eLearning days.” Instead of having the day off, students would spend their day at their laptops completing schoolwork assigned that morning. This announcement likely sends a cold chill (no pun intended) through all students across cold-weather states. They wonder: Could their district be next? Anderson’s superintendent, Tom Wilson, describes this decision as making “good sense” and explains that snow days are a waste of time and resources. Wilson cites that schools have to make up the days in the summer. On snow days, staff and students have an unproductive day at home. But now, thanks to technology, kids no longer have to waste a day because of inclement weather. However, the question is: What if snow days aren’t a waste?
As well-intentioned as replacing snow days with “eLearning days” is, this school district might be underestimating the value of this day off from school. Of course, there is the expense of extending the school year and students missing a day of instruction. But most educators, and all students, can speak to the value of that unscheduled day away from classrooms. School districts need to consider a few things before abolishing the snow day.
Snow days provide a much-needed break.
Educators know the work involved with teaching and leading during the winter months. Kids are lethargic from the lack of vitamin D. The promise of rest during spring break seems like an eternity away. Standardized tests loom, and the work this time of year is often more difficult and strenuous. Snow days give a break from this. They provide a morale boost that only a day off can give. Derek Boillat, a teacher in Michigan, said, “When our district doesn’t give a snow day on days we probably should have had one, you can feel the angst among the staff and students. Teaching in these months is long and hard, and sometimes you just need a day to recharge.”
The benefits of this boost can be hard to quantify, and therefore difficult to justify, but ask any educator, and they can speak to a change in energy in their students the day following a snow day. This energy increases engagement. Engagement, of course, leads to more successful learning.
Not all kids have access to the Internet at home.
Yes, all kids might have a laptop in this school district, but not all have Internet access. If a snow day is declared at 5 a.m., students will have to access their schoolwork through the Internet. Many students don’t have Internet at home, so they would not be able to complete the assigned work. Anderson’s superintendent says the school will allow students without Internet access five days to complete eLearning assignments.
This sends the message that the work is obviously not that important. If that wasn’t the case, students would need to finish the work that day. It also creates a real inequity. Schools should not punish kids because of their lack of access. By assigning them work on top of the work already expected of them once they return to school, the district is putting them at further disadvantage because of circumstances outside of their control.
“eLearning days” really means “busy-work days.”
As described, eLearning days seem to really just be days filled with busy work. Anything assigned so quickly, without any instruction or guidance, will probably not be that meaningful. This type of assignment basically says that the job of an educator is to assign work. In reality, well-thought-out and engaging instruction is the predecessor of meaningful assignments. Assignments created on the morning of a snow day that require no instruction will likely be rushed and low quality. It is likely that teachers will have to create assignments in anticipation of a snow day. Therefore the work students have to complete will be out of sequence and probably something just to keep them busy. On top of this, teachers will have yet another task, outside of the work they are already doing, to complete.
So let’s be honest, if students are just doing busy work, is the time really well spent? Does the process value teachers’ time? Is it not more of a waste to put students in front of a screen on their day away from school than to allow them the freedom to explore independently?
No one wants to tack on extra days in the summer because of a snowstorm in February. However, these extra days are worth it. They’re worth preserving a part of school culture. They create a break in the winter everyone in the school system can use. And, if you polled most students and educators, you’ll likely hear that they have no problem with it.