CLARKSBURG, Mass. — School officials are preparing for another snowy winter with "blizzard bags" to keep students on track.
The School Committee on Oct. 5 approved a pilot program that would send predetermined school work home with children so up to five school snow days could be treated as instructional days.
"It's a way where you don't have to make up snow days at the end of the year, which is kind of a waste," Superintendent Jonathan Lev explained recently.
The discussions on the pilot took place over several meetings.
Clarksburg School had make up seven snow days this past year, extending the school year to June 23. The number and timing of storms last winter frustrated school districts across the region as they tried to decide on closings or half-days to maneuver around the bad weather to get their 180 days in. Most went beyond the five normal snow days.
The concept of "blizzard bags" (in reality a project or selection of projects) has been around for a few years and was most recently used by Gateway Regional High School in Huntington. The pilot was deemed a success although the school still ended up using snow days.
Lev said the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has no regulations preventing the use of blizzard bags. In 2015, under the commissioner's update, DESE posted in response to growing inquiries about the practice that "school districts must ensure that such work is structured learning time, is substantial, and has appropriate oversight and teacher involvement. ... Districts are encouraged to share their experiences as they experiment with different models so that all can learn about their effectiveness and develop examples of best practices."
The superintendent said the work should have the same value as a school day.
"Our thinking is it doesn't have to be done that day, maybe a week or even two weeks to turn in an assignment," he said. "For older kids, it might be some kind of paper or research ... we want to give them time so if they need questions or help."
He anticipated students could find help after school when they return or be able to communicate with teachers electronically on snow days.
"I think it's a great idea," said School Committee member Patricia Pengruber. She was, however, concerned about how long the pilot should run before being evaluated.
Principal Tara Barnes said she needed to know the length of the pilot to communicate to teachers and students.
"You don't want to go for a long amount of time and get sucked into a place where you're allowing 10 instructional days to pass," she said.
English teacher Michael Little thought it should be at least five days with the possibility to add more.
"I think if we went with two, I don't think two is quite long enough to work out some of the bugs, if there are any," he said. "But if we have a solid system in place before it goes out, I think it will be really smooth."
The School Committee moved to approve using blizzard bags for up to five snow days, and then re-evaluate if more should be added.
Lev said he is hoping for high participation since there will be the expectation that this is part of the school year.
"I talked with the superintendent who did this and they were pleasantly surprised at how successful it was," he said. "We feel the outcome is more beneficial for the kids and that the last couple days of June, how much academic work are they getting?"
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