EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 30, 2013

Working from home

By Alex Lippa

---- — PLAISTOW — Snow days in the Timberlane Regional School District might not be just for sledding and making snowmen anymore. Now, students may also have to complete some work during their day off.

The district has proposed creating “blizzard bags,” a set of activities for students to complete from home during a snow day. If enough students complete the assignments, then the district does not have to make up the day at the end of the year.

“We just had so many snow days last year, and we ended up having to go to school all the way up until the last week of June,” Assistant Superintendent Roxanne Wilson said.

Many of the assignments would be available online, but there would also be ways for students who can’t access a computer at home and for younger students to complete the assignments.

“If we know there is a 99 percent chance of school being canceled the next day, then we would send the students home with a blizzard bag of assignments to complete,” Wilson said. But not every snow day will be considered a blizzard bag day.

“We can use up to 5 blizzard bag days, but we would not want to use that many days,” Wilson said. In the automatic phone message informing families that school is canceled, the district will disclose whether the snow day is a blizzard bag day or not. The day will not have to be made up at the end of the year if 80 percent of the district completes their assignments.

Parents had mixed opinions about the blizzard bags.

“For a stay-at-home parent, their kids could be able to access the computer and make sure all their work gets done,” said Carolyn Longchamp of Atkinson. “But for a working parent that may be difficult.”

Judie Kerem of Atkinson would like to see the blizzard bags implemented.

“I like when we get out on time,” she said. “Summer vacation seems too short when the kids get out right before the Fourth of July and go back before Labor Day.”

One concern Longchamp had would be what to do if the power goes out.

“Atkinson especially is well known for losing power,” she said. “I wonder how students would be able to get their work done in the dark.”

But Wilson said parents wouldn’t need to worry about that. “If it’s an ice storm or something where we expect the power could go out, we would likely not declare that a blizzard bag day.”

Londonderry has had blizzard bags implemented for the last two years. But they have not had to use them during a snow day.

“We used it on a day where our faculty was in school for teacher’s conferences,” said Londonderry ASsistant Superintendent Andrew Corey. “It went very well then. We really feel it almost needs to be more of a pre-planned thing when it comes to making up the day. It can be difficult to stay current with the curriculum.”

Pinkerton is also piloting blizzard bags this year.

Longchamp said doing online assignments isn’t the same as going to school.

“I like the teacher interaction with students,” Longchamp said. “I think it’s more beneficial for the children.”

Timberlane surveyed parents this month and will look at those results before determining whether to move forward. The plan then has to be approved by the state Department of Education before it is implemented.