Why I Stopped Hoping for Snow Days

Snow Days

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?

 

14 Comments

  1. When I had a job that paid me for snow days (and late starts as needed), I enjoyed a snow day. But now if I don’t work, I don’t get paid, so for a lot of hourly workers snow days are expensive. Of course, if you try to go out on treacherous roads, you can wreck your car which can cost a lot more than a day’s wage. There were hundreds of wrecks over the weekend storm here, and I’m guessing most were caused when employers insisted people come work despite the conditions.

    Also, now we have makeup snow days on Saturdays-my daughter had a great time at school last Saturday (the teachers took it easy, at least on the Kindergarten kids), but there was no lunch provided. That’s not a problem for our family, but there were obviously kids who had missed two days of school lunch during our ice storm (which meant a long hungry weekend) and then weren’t getting an extra on their makeup school days.

    So I’m a lot more sensitive to the downside of snow days.

  2. This is such a sad way to think about these, but such a reality. Thank you for this post. Definitely sharing this! So informative and thought-provoking.

  3. I feel… safe from them here in Phoenix. But in Seattle I dreaded snow. People don’t know how to drive in snow and/or ice. And it’s a hilly place. Having grown up in Alaska, it’s terrifying to see how people in normal temperatures drive in inclement weather.

    So I’d stay home as much as possible. If I did have to walk to the grocery store — I was carless back then — I’d snicker at the people lining up at Napa for chains that they wouldn’t even be able to use a day or two later. Then hurry back home to avoid getting hit by some idiot.

  4. Employees in my NY office get snow days off, with pay. I work from home so I don’t. It never would have occurred to me that kids go hungry on snow days. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sure. Sorry to write something sad, but I thought it was a perspective worth considering. I’ve got so many rumbly bellies in my classroom this year that my heart just breaks thinking of them sitting home hungry.

  5. From the perspective of a young kid not knowing the reality of the other side – my heart used to rejoice as I performed the “snow dance” for days off like this. The realities behind snow days that you just brought forward, certainly make me think the opposite. As I’m older I recognize now that these are real realities – especially the child care cost aspect. When sometimes one, or the other parents make the active choice of not even working any longer because it’s more reasonable to stay home to watch their child versus bring in another stream of income. I never witnessed these conversations until I started out in the professional world. Thank you for bringing to light what the realities are.

    • The childcare dilemma is so unnerving to me in general. I would be lying if I said it was a serious factor in the kids, no kids decision for us personally. It’s interesting how much perspective shifts when we enter the professional world, no?

  6. Hey, Penny. I wouldn’t know what to do if the pilot light went out on our furnace. Very sobering reminder of how difficult it is for too many of our neighbors. Thank you for making the abstract concept of poverty all too real.

    • For sure! I felt like a total Debbie Downer writing it, but so many of my colleagues even still eagerly await snow days, and I realized how we don’t always see them for what they are.

  7. Here in the South, it’s not just food right now.

    One of my RAs is currently at a grocery store because her apartment hasn’t had power or heat in a couple of days. They can’t even access a hotel room for another two days because everything with power is already booked.

    Another of my students emailed me on Monday saying that she thinks she has Covid and hadn’t had power since the day before. What is she supposed to do? If she goes to a grocery store or shelter for heat, she’ll be spreading Covid. Fortunately in our town they’ve been able to ration the rolling blackouts so different neighborhoods are taking turns getting electricity starting yesterday, unlike where my RA lives.

    So many people are going to die. I remember growing up when we hit record lows and a lot of people died in Chicago because of power outages.

  8. I feel just awful about snow days. Texas has gone through one of the most brutal snow days in the past couple of days and the power is out, getting food and groceries is difficult, and it’s making everybody all around miserable.

    No more snow days for me! I used to love getting into snowball fights and making snowmen but after this… No more. This was too much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.