Every winter students (and many teachers and staff!) cross their fingers at the sighting of snow flurries, hoping that it’ll get them a snow day – a glorious day off from school where they can frolic and play. So what if it tacks on an extra day at the end of the year – the benefit is now, and it’s usually welcome. But what happens when areas of the country that typically don’t experience much – if any – snow get clobbered, as Washington D.C., and parts of Virginia and Maryland did a couple of weeks ago?
The school district where our company’s very own founder, Jay Bass, lives had a whopping 7 (seven!!) days off of school as their community dug out from under 27 inches of snow. And these days probably weren’t as exciting as they would have been had the closures been for a few inches – 27 inches is a lot of snow, and it was enough to paralyze an entire section of the country, including our capital. Children can’t go outside and play in the snow if it’s so high they can barely move their legs. There’s no meeting up with friends to go sledding when the usually minutes-long walk to their house would take an hour.
Similarly, last winter much of Massachusetts and Rhode Island saw at least one school closure every week (on a Monday, no less) for 5 or 6 weeks straight as they were pummeled with snowstorm after snowstorm through January and February. Although these closures were one day every week – as opposed to one week straight – they still take their toll on parents, teachers, and administrators – not to mention town officials and state resources. And the inability to clear such large volumes of snow from communities’ walkways makes the interaction of cars, buses and schoolchildren a hazardous mix and further delays the re-opening of schools.
It’s hard to measure the effects of a snow day by the numbers – there are studies that say that when students spend less time in class their test scores drop. However, that research seems to skim over two important factors:
- In most school districts, days missed due to weather events are made up at the end of the year, therefore not changing the total number of days in school and,
- Students routinely miss school for personal reasons (illness, family matters, vacations) and not just weather events.
There is some research which shows that interrupted learning could have a negative effect on retention of information (ie: missing a day in the middle of the week and thus having to break a lesson apart), but – as are the above – those are inconclusive.
Effects that are easier to calculate are those that are monetary in nature. Parents, of course, are hit with having to find childcare for their home-ridden youngsters, or must take a day off from work to care for them themselves. This can certainly create problems, with childcare unavailable at the last minute, and/or when taking the day off from work is not an option. And prolonged snow breaks cause mounting pressures and stressors for parents as their children begin to develop cabin fever after so many days at home.
School districts are also hit hard – each storm means that road crews are out plowing and sanding, and district and school personnel must clear parking lots and sidewalks before classes can resume. With each storm that hits, budgets get eaten away – last year in the Northeast almost every town had exceeded their snow removal budget before the end of January. While states can (and did) apply for Federal aid, budgets must also get adjusted in other sectors to make up for the loss – and the schools are one of those areas from which funds can be “redistributed.”
While snow can be beautiful and idyllic and bring much-wanted breaks for kids to school routines, demands and stressors, it is also potentially dangerous, disruptive, costly, and impactful on children’s learning and academic progress as a result of lost instructional time and a condensed curriculum.