CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- When winter storms hit, some New Hampshire superintendents have two decisions to make: whether to close schools, and whether to declare a "Blizzard Bag Day."
What’s a "Blizzard Bag Day?" Think of it like a snow day, with a catch. Schools are closed, but students must complete assignments at home, either online or on paper using supplies sometimes sent home in a designated "blizzard bag." If 80 percent of students finish their work, the day counts as a full day and doesn’t have to be made up at the end of the school year.
The Kearsarge Regional School District in central New Hampshire was the first in the state to implement a "blizzard bag" policy in 2009. Before then, it wasn’t unusual to have to extend the school year by eight or nine days in the summer, Superintendent Jerry Frew said.
"We had periods of time when we would have interrupted weeks of school on end, and just out of frustration, we said, ‘There has to be a better way to do this, to preserve continuity so the kids stay in the habit (of learning),"’ he said. "You can’t stop and start and stop and start. There has to be a way to preserve the momentum of learning."
He called the policy a great partnership between families and teachers, who often say the "blizzard bag" days are busier than a regular school day because they have to prepare all the lessons ahead of time and are communicating by phone and online with students and parents all day. The program has been fine-tuned over the years. The first year, the workloads proved a bit too much, Frew said.
"We were a bit overzealous in our expectations," he said.
School officials also took to heart some "whining" from students, he said.
"One of our first learnings was that the first snow day of the year should be the old-fashioned snow day," he said. "So we took that feedback and said, ‘Next year when we get the first storm, it won’t be a blizzard bag day, it will be a good old-fashioned snow day."
Frew’s district has always achieved at least 90 percent participation. Some "blizzard bag" days have had better attendance than regular school days, he said.
It’s unclear how many other districts have implemented similar policies. Kearsarge was among seven districts with policies approved by the state Department of Education last year. For this year, six districts applied for and received approval, said Marie Morgan, a consultant in the department’s school approval office. They are Barnstead, Chester Academy, Cornish, Nelson, Pinkerton Academy and Timberlane, said Morgan, who recently heard from a parent upset that his third-grader "couldn’t just enjoy a snow day as we did when we were that age."
Some districts that have tried the concept in past years have discontinued it. In a letter to parents last fall, ConVal School District Superintendent Brendan Minnehan said it was difficult to keep the assignments relevant and timely. Internet access also was an obstacle, he wrote. While the assignments could be completed offline, families without a computer in the home or Internet access found them challenging. For others, providing equal access within a household was a problem.
"Even for those families with a computer and Internet access, the challenge of completing the workload with multiple children in the house needing computer access is daunting," Minnehan said.