Back in early January, before we were buried in over four feet of snow, the Burlington School Committee approved further discussion of “Blizzard Bags” for Burlington Public Schools to potentially make up days of schools lost because of snow. Burlington, along with Wayland, is one of two school districts in the state, that has the approval of the Massachusetts Department of Education to explore an alternative model to making up snow days at the end of the school year.
This pilot program will explore the creation and completion of assignments and projects that students will be able to complete to meet time on learning minutes from school days that are canceled. Of course the number of days that would be added back in would depend on the amount of work involved in the assignments. However, before going too much more into logistics, it is important to discuss school calendar construction/requirements and Blizzard Bags further.
School Calendar Construction:
State regulations require that the district create a 185 day school-year calendar although only 180 days are mandated. The five, built-in days allow for up to five days of cancellations within an approved calendar year. We are currently within our five day allowance already built into our school calendar. If everything stays as it is (no more cancellations), the school year will end on Thursday, June 25, 2015 (except for seniors).
Massachusetts requires elementary and middle school students to attend school for 900 hours per school year and high school students 990 hours per school year. These hours take place over 180 days. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has not allowed any exceptions to the 180 requirement in prior years. The “Blizzard Bag” pilot provides Burlington with the possibility of maintaining the learning hour requirement but over a reduced number of days.
What are Blizzard Bags?
The concept of Blizzard Bags is not new. The practice of assigning work to students to make up snow days is already happening in states like Minnesota, Ohio, and New Hampshire just to name a few. One difference in some states, like New Hampshire, is that the students are assigned work to do on a snow day and are expected to have it completed when they get back to school. However, this “homework” will not be the option that we will be looking to replicate this year.
Our district is exploring using a model where a sufficient amount of lessons/projects will be developed to equal the amount of instructional time students would have received for the days of school that we are looking to count. Once the assignments are created for all Burlington students, we will create a due-date for their completion. We will continue to offer frequent updates and will have a website with all of the assignments as well as resources to support their successful completion.
We believe that these learning projects will be more educationally relevant than additional worksheets. We are also exploring ways to leverage the technology that the community provides to extend learning.
Any proposal will require school committee and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education approval. In addition, there may be working condition considerations in regards to school staff.