I can still remember my first snow day. It was actually a cold day, as temperatures dipped below -30 degrees Fahrenheit with the windchill. The shrill of the telephone cut into my dreams. Rubbing my eyes, I padded out of my room and into my parents’ bedroom. I squinted as my dad nodded into the receiver. He told me simply, “No school today. Go back to bed. You’ll spend the day with Nana.”
The moment–and that whole day–was magical. I remember eventually crawling out of bed and practically dancing my way into the living room where I met my grandma in front of the box of a television that was blasting out a warning about going outdoors. The cold meant nothing to me. I was a seven-year-old bundled in plush pajamas, wrapped in a pink fuzzy robe. My grandma hugged me close, handed me a cup of cocoa, and commented on how perfectly it all worked out that she was staying with us for the week. Then, we got to mapping out our day together, planning all the fun we’d have.
For over a decade, whenever school was canceled on account of snow or cold, I rejoiced, allowing my mind to drift back to that day. Then, I went to work in a Title 1 school where nearly 80% of students were served either free or reduced-cost lunches. For many kids, it was their only real meal of the day.
That’s when I realized the hidden cost of snow days.
The Fear of Missing Out…on Food
I work in a more affluent school now, but well over 40% of our students are on free-and-reduced-lunch meal plans and about a dozen students are classified as homeless.
Should families be able to provide meals for their kids? Undoubtedly.
Do families want to be able to provide meals for this kids? Absolutely.
But the reality of the matter for many families is these free or discounted lunches are part of the process of making ends meet. While it is easy to get lost in the madness of finger pointing, the math is simple: Nearly half of the students who attend my school may not eat lunch. That’s the cost of a snow day.
The Price of Staying Home
In addition to being faced with the prospect of providing an extra meal for their kids, families also have to contend with child care. Not only is childcare expensive, it’s also difficult to schedule with most cold- and snow-day decisions being made an hour or two before the school day begins.
Most of my students simply stay home alone. Do I object to middle schoolers staying home alone? Not outright.
In fact, some of my students are probably more responsible than some adults. But babysitting for neighbors or siblings on a idyllic summer day is quite the contrast to staying home during a snowstorm. Does a twelve-year-old know how to combat freezing pipes or restart a pilot light in a furnace? It’s not an ideal situation for anyone to have to face.
It is also true that for some families that school is a warm and safe space for their children, while their homes may not always be.
Changing the Calendar…and the Classroom
Another compounding factor that complicates the idea of a snow day is whether or not the day has to be made up. It really depends on the particular school and the way the school calendar is built. For many, a day off in the winter can push the school year further into the summer.
Of course, things are decidedly much more complex now that remote school is on the table. While certainly less ideal than in person learning, many district now have the ability to offer synchronous or asynchronous virtual learning while still keeping buses off the roads.
That could certainly throw yet another wrench into any family’s plans for that snowy day. But remote learning can also prevent the need to make up days in the summer.
Snow Days Will Still Happen
Of course, some storms are so treacherous that it is a liability to let little ones walk to school. Some days, the roads are virtually impassable for buses. Power goes out, and so do furnaces.
And don’t even get me started on how most middle schoolers–regardless of socioeconomic status–don’t understand the concept of dressing for the weather.
There are myriad reasons why snow days do and don’t happen.
Snow days are indisputably tough calls. The nights prior to those tough decisions make me glad that the choice is not mine to make. Ask ten people their thoughts on cancelling school for a snow day, and you’ll get ten different answers.
We tend to look back on snow days from our own childhood with wonder and delight. I’ll never forget how utterly thrilling that early-morning phone call was. Truly, the whole day is stuff that memories are made of.
But it is important for us to remember that isn’t everyone’s childhood and that won’t be everyone’s snow day experience. So while snow days will absolutely still happen–at least in some places and in some cases–maybe it’s time to stop hoping for them.
So Tell Me…How do you feel about snow days?