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Blizzard Bags: Are They Working Out for N.H. School Districts?

Scott Akerman, Flickr

Several New Hampshire school districts have already issued snow days this month, and there are more come as we head into winter.

As districts have considered different solutions to making up those missed days, there’s been an ongoing debate over the effectiveness of blizzard bags.

Blizzard bags include a full day of assignments, which are either sent home ahead of time or accessed online from home.

Kearsarge School District in New London came up with the idea in 2009, and has found success with blizzard bag days. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Winfried Feneberg, the Superintendent for Kearsarge.

(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

So Kearsarge initially reported success with using blizzard bags on snow days, and I wonder if that’s still be the case some eight years on?

I would say yes. We have had very good experiences with that. We have been really fortunate in that having those five days does help us not to extend the year late into June, which as you know, in New Hampshire we don’t have air-conditioned schools typically. It becomes very hot and perhaps not as productive a day late in June as it would be in December and January.

Sure, that’s absolutely true. Other school districts I know around the state have tried this. Conway School District for example, did not like using their blizzard bag days even though they met the requirement of 80 percent participation from students. School officials said that they weren’t a sufficient replacement for a school day. What do you think makes the program successful for Kearsarge?

Well, I think in general we know that a day spent with a teacher is probably the best way to learn for students. But in a situation where we are facing having to call off the day because of our weather situation and deep snow, having the option to run a school day while it happens is very beneficial for us.

But not every student has the same access to resources at home. I mean, some parents may be present to help with assignments. Others may be busy with work. And some students have internet access. Some may not. Has that been a problem?

The fortunate situation that we have here [is that] we do have good connections in our homes. We have the internet access pretty much covered, which is something if you are in a more rural or less fortunate situation, it’s much more difficult to have a blizzard bag day program. Most of our students have at least one device that is connected to the internet. Our teachers have laptops, everybody individually. If there are students who may not have access, they can certainly do a hard copy. Sometimes we hear that when parents have three or four kids at home, working with the technology it might create some difficulties. But we find ways around that and it has not been a true issue for most of our students.

And have you found that throughout the years you were getting that 80 percent participation rate?

Oh yeah, that and significantly more. I’ve looked at our historical participation. It’s in the high 90s typically.

How do teachers typically ensure they learn what they need to after completing a blizzard bag day? You know, some critics have said that even when students are completing the work, they don’t have the same understanding as they would if they were in the classroom.

Yeah, as I said before, I think we cannot replicate with online learning what the actual presence of a teacher can represent in the classroom. We know that there’s a compromise. But I believe our teachers are checking the work while it happens. They’re available online for students to ask questions and students do take advantage of that. Given the alternative of just having a day off because of weather that needs to be made up later in the year, when you have even less context, I would say that the blizzard bag and the online learning day is advantageous for our students and teachers alike.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR. She manages the station's news magazines, Morning Edition and All Things Considered. You can email her at mmcintyre@nhpr.org.

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