Last year, schools near me opened late because of Hurricane Irene and then closed in October after the late-month storm. The previous year, we lost six instructional days in January because of snow, and other schools in the southeast lost days when tornadoes hit leading to delayed closings and AP exams.
Several years ago, the NYCIST conference featured Will Richardson and Alan November as keynote speakers. Towards the end of their speech, we were broken into groups to brainstorm answers to this situation: there’s a pandemic (like SARS or H1N1) that leads to mandatory school closings and quarantines – what should schools do?
Most of the groups, including by the one I was in, talked about using Skype and creating robust websites with threaded discussions, beefing up electronic resources and communications, training teachers to use Class Management Systems like Drupal, FirstClass or Moodle. The goal? To continue the educational experience in both asynchronous and synchronous settings, with as little disruption to the school year as possible. Obviously this would take a lot of training and support, but hey, the kids come first, right? In my group were Dave Cormier and Nancy White, and one of them (I think Dave, but possibly Nancy) came up with this radical statement:
This type of quarantine/closing would only last a couple of months at most – what’s the harm in letting students have a vacation? why not let them play and enjoy, rather than forcing them to “do school”?
And, of course, that’s the answer we ultimately went with: do nothing.
With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on us, and threats of days with no electricity, I can imagine that conversation taking place in school administrative circles. How many of them will come up with “do nothing”?
When I think of the difference between my childhood and that of many of the students I work with, it’s a little horrifying. My parents “cared”, so I had ballet classes and piano lessons and Hebrew School. That was rare, and most of my classmates had Brownies/Girl Scouts (or Cub/Boy Scouts) and possibly 4H. That left four days after school with nothing planned. GASP! Virtually unheard of today, with so many parents scheduling every second of their children’s lives. I never had a play date, I just hung out with kids who lived near me and occasionally went to a friend’s house or had them over to mine. When we had snow days, sometimes I went outside and played but most of the time I stayed inside and read. Oh, and I got paid to shovel the walk and driveway.
I can only imagine how today’s kids will spend the next few days: can they even do homework on-line if there’s no electricity? Going outside will be difficult if there are downed power lines and tree limbs. What if their area is relatively ok, but their school is closed: will teachers expect them to keep up?
My advice: do nothing. Read. Relax. There’s more than enough time to do the school thing, and far too little time to do the kid thing.