Saving Snow Days


IMAGINE WAKING up early in the morning, sleepily stumbling out of bed for school. You look outside your window and see a torrent of snowflakes flurrying outside, accumulating in piles on the ground. Your heart skips a beat as you walk out the bedroom door and down to the living room just in time to see your parents put down their phones. It’s official: the district declared a snow day. And just like that, any sluggish feelings dissipate. You have one glorious day completely free to yourself. For many students, the snow day is an integral part of the childhood experience. Going outside for a snowball fight, making snow angels, building snowmen, and then coming back inside to warm up and drink hot chocolate evokes feelings of comfort and happiness. The unexpected respite from a snow day is a feeling that is difficult to recreate. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the way that districts think about school. Remote learning has given educators the opportunity to allow schools to commence regardless of inclement weather. If every student can log in to classes from their home when there is snow, do we still need snow days? According to the journal Education Week, 39% of U.S school districts say no.

Yet, replacing snow days with remote learning days—“e-days”—causes more problems than it solves. Both the feelings and necessities of snow days render them essential. While many people find the technology and situational issues in households worthy motives to get rid of snow days, the repose and opportunity they provide to take care of families in such weather conditions make them necessary for students, teachers, and parents.

Traditionally, snow days are used during dangerous weather, as students and staff would have to endure hazardous travel conditions. Staying at home alleviates any issues with travel, and continuing school as normal is unlikely to cause any other problems. Perhaps the biggest reason why some parents and educators are pushing for e-days is because of the new technology that schools increasingly have. Using this technology to their advantage would be a great benefit. For working parents, a snow day’s short notice means scrambling to make arrangements to keep their children occupied at home. Some parents may not be able to take a day off from work or find someone else to take care of their children. For many teachers, a day off from school means having to adjust lesson plans, keeping students a day behind. This problem is exacerbated especially if the conditions persist for several days. Furthermore, when particularly harsh winters require numerous closures of schools, there is a risk of having shorter school breaks, especially in the spring, and extending the school year.

Even so, there are many reasons why these common arguments are erroneous. Simply because we can continue learning from home does not mean that we should. In a remote environment, being online for almost seven hours a day can be taxing, not to mention the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle. According to Teens for Teen Health, an online student can spend 35 hours a week for school, excluding homework and recreational activities. Increased screen time is linked with obesity, depression, anxiety, and altered sleep cycles. While snow days may not be a repeated occurrence, sitting in front of a screen, even for a single day, can have adverse effects on students’ health, particularly in technology-based districts already requiring computer use regularly. Allowing for this single day to unplug, reconnect with friends and family, and get outside can be liberating for many students and avoids this extra screen time.

For some parents, e-days are the solution to keeping children engaged in a meaningful activity at home. However, with the harmful effects of screen time and the lack of physical engagement, especially for younger children, e-days are not as useful as they seem. Without a teacher guiding students through a lesson, virtual classrooms lack the connection essential for retentive learning. An article from the non-profit news organization Chalkbeat found that up to three-quarters of teachers said their students were less engaged in online classes. While schools have tried to manage these issues, when the time comes for in-person instruction, there is no reason to shift to remote learning when studies have shown that they are not as productive. Additionally, harsh weather can also affect people’s ability to be in class. For instance, if power lines are downed, Internet speeds can slow down in certain areas, resulting in students missing classes. If some students are able to connect and others are not, then there will be discrepancies in lessons, as students will need to catch up to their peers. For such unpredictable situations, we need flexibility.

Snow days create numerous tasks for families: people must ensure that they have enough food and supplies to take care of everyone. Many students are obligated to assist their families with this work, which means they would be unable to attend remote school. With the difficult circumstances snow can create, school should not be a priority. Some children have to help their parents shovel outside their home. Other students may have to take care of younger siblings or other family members if their parents are working. It would be illogical to prioritize learning when students have more serious responsibilities. If students and teachers are more worried about assignments than taking care of families, what does this emphasis on learning teach us?

Though technology can present districts with the opportunity to discard the snow day, it comes at a cost. The break from the pressure and constant studies afforded to students is crucial. Schools only have extended breaks three times a year, hardly enough to relax and take time for oneself. Mentally speaking, not taking time off can harm productivity. According to a study by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and her colleagues at USC and MIT, breaks keep the brain healthy and help in divergent thinking, processing new ideas. Unstructured snow day breaks are crucial because they allow students and faculty to relax, recharge, and get ready for the day ahead.

Many of us have fond memories of playing in the snow and spending time with our loved ones during snow days. Even though we no longer need snow days, they have become a time-honored tradition. The image of snow is associated with relaxation, an opportunity to connect with our loved ones. Getting rid of these moments now robs young children of experiencing the same wonder of snow days in the future. Mother Nature has created an excuse for all of us to step back and live in the present, to create memories for us to reminisce over later on. Why wouldn’t we use it?

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