Teachers welcomed students back from snow days Monday like suppliers at a wilderness outpost.
By JOE ROBERTSON
The Kansas City Star
They dished out meaty lessons and then loaded their students’ saddlebags for the next trek into a wintry abyss.
If there is a silver lining in these waves of storm clouds, said Mike McAnally, an instructional coach in Kansas City Public Schools, it’s that forecasters saw them coming several days out.
“We had advance warning to prepare,” he said.
That meant Hogan Preparatory Academy history teacher Joe Dutcher could have his planned PowerPoint slide presentation printed out last week to send home with homework for students to develop questions for discussion.
And this time his students could download documents to do some more discussion preparation during the next hiatus.
“They expected it,” Dutcher said of his students. “They know we’re getting behind.”
Except for a day or two in December, winter had been pretty easy on schools this season, so districts aren’t yet in danger of exhausting the snow days built into their calendars. But by this time of the year, districts have passed by some of the makeup days built into the late-winter portions of their schedules. They are now looking at making up these days at the end of May.
Spending extra summer-like days in class after all the tests are done is not necessarily an effective way to compensate for February’s lost days. But asking children to take on extra homework doesn’t go over well, either.
Especially when the prevailing state of mind is that snow days are bonus holidays.
“It’s been a little nuts,” said Nicole Ruiz, the math department chair and the Algebra II/Trigonometry teacher at Ruskin High School in Hickman Mills.
“Technically, you don’t lose those classroom days, but (in reality) you do,” she said.
Ruiz’s approach is to keep her students loaded with a regular slate of work that they can review at home, whether they are in school or not. Hickman Mills, like many districts now, also uses online services that help students practice at home.
Her class has a unit test scheduled for Thursday, and she has told her students it’s still on. Can’t be falling behind on the curriculum, you see.
Were they hoping she’d push it back?
“Of course they were,” she said. “But this is what it’s like in college. The test is on the syllabus and that’s when it is.”
Kansas City Public Schools, which is working to regain accreditation, may be feeling extra pressure to stay ahead as much as possible.
The district already was mounting plans to boost instruction time as districts move toward the state testing season this spring.
A lot of those materials went home with students Monday, spokeswoman Eileen Houston-Stewart said. That includes test prep packets, books, math facts projects, study guides and materials to help encourage seniors in high school to use some of this time to keep working on their capstone projects.
“We know we have to regain our accreditation,” Houston-Stewart said. “We’re in a little different space than other districts.”
But no one’s immune to the pressure to keep students rolling.
Arrowhead Middle School English teacher Michael Rebne in the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools made a run with his students through the school library Monday to make sure they were stocked up on books.
They are all working on research papers on justice issues around the reading of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and he encouraged them to carry on during the snow break.
The district has an online network that will allow them to check in with the teacher and hold discussions while they are out of school.
“I’m impressed how kids are able to hit the ground running in situations like this,” he said.
Teachers have to strike a balance, said Becky Nace, an instructional coach in the Kansas City Public Schools.
Monday needed to include a review of instruction from four days ago. Teachers needed to press ahead as well, but not with too much new material that would test student recall.
They also have to recognize that students won’t have the same access to quiet study time on these snow days.
“You need to have certain expectations” about the work you want students to achieve, Nace said. “But you can’t punish those who don’t.”
There will still be a need to gather everyone back in when they return and make sure every student has a chance to catch up, she said.
“You pick up where you left off,” she said, “and carry on.”
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