EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 7, 2014

Blizzard bags make debut in Hampstead

Initial reviews are positive

By Alex Lippa

---- — HAMPSTEAD — A snowstorm kept students out of school Wednesday, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t busy with schoolwork.

The Hampstead School District debuted its blizzard bag online learning program on Wednesday. Students were sent home with assignments on Tuesday afternoon, with instructions to complete the work instead of coming to school.

Neither superintendent Earl Metzler nor assistant superintendent Roxanne Wilson could be reached for comment.

If 80 percent of the students completed their assignments Wednesday, the day would not have to be made up at the end of the year. Metzler’s executive assistant Cathy Belcher said while they are still in collecting data, the district believes the day went well.

The program was only in effect in Hampstead yesterday. The district hopes to implement the program in Timberlane in the future.

Dillard Collins, principal of Hampstead Central School, said Wednesday exceeded his expectations.

“I did an informal look at the data and we were well above 80 percent,” he said. “Many of our classrooms had between 90 and 100 percent completion rate.”

Collins said there were a few glitches, but the day was mostly a positive experience.

“Some of the parents couldn’t find exactly where some stuff was supposed to go,” he said. “Our third grade team had about 150 emails with parents going back and forth.”

Stephanie Roux has children at Hampstead Central and Middle Schools. She said the work kept her students occupied for several hours Wednesday.

“The kids seemed to know what they were doing and could do most of their work without much of my help,” she said. “It seemed very well organized.”

In Roux’s home, each of her children were able to use their own laptops. But she could see a problem if the kids had to share computer time.

“There was a good amount of work which was assigned,” she said. “If my three children all had to share one computer, it would have been much harder.”

Collins said there was also an offline component to the program. Roux said her children’s teachers were available throughout the day via email, sending them reminders to make sure their work was completed.

“It went pretty well,” she said. “There was reading and math assignments, which were along the lines of what they had been doing in class. I’m sure the kids would have preferred to have a snow day rather than sitting at a computer all day. Collins said the nature of the storm allowed his staff to prepare the students in advance for what they would have to do.

“We made sure we got all instructions home ahead of time,” he said. “We did an extra review on Tuesday so that the kids had another cue. We got fortunate that it was in the middle of the week, so we had time to really get ready for this.”

Roux said she hopes the rest of the district followed suit.

“Hopefully, 80 percent of the students did the work, so it wasn’t all for nothing,” she said.