S'no Use Complaining about Snow Days

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An Exercise in Difficulties at Many Levels

Another snow day for schools means scrambling on all sides. As a parent, I would be so frustrated because I still had to get to work and now I had to figure out what to do with my children. Old enough to stay home? They would wreck the house! Need child care? Programs might open at 10, but I had an 8:30 meeting! And then, as it often happens in the mountains of WNC, by noon the roads are clear and the sky is sunny. However, as a school board member, I soon understood how complicated it is.

Our buses don’t do well on curvy, icy mountain roads that don’t even see sunlight and insufficiently bundled children waiting at a bus stop in freezing temperatures are at risk. We all know how impossible it is to predict the weather here; schools close on a forecast of a big snow and the weather is fine. I don’t envy the folks in charge of making such a determination.

So let’s look at snow days from three perspectives: a teacher, a parent and a child.

Teachers and Unexpected Snow Days

Ms. Shoemaker teaches at an elementary school. She has car duty which requires her to be at the school by 7:30. She has two teens who drive themselves to school. She gets to school in a light snow and by 8:30 a snow day has been declared. She has a class full of children who have to be bused back home, but some parents are asking to keep them there until they can get away from work to pick them up.

She’s worried about her own kids driving in the snowy conditions and is trying to find out where they will be. She is worried about her students’ progress in math class as they are learning a difficult concept that gets lost with each extended break between lessons. She is also worried about the children with thin jackets and a look of concern when they realize they won’t get lunch today.

Parents and Unexpected Snow Days

Mr. Bailey works at a car repair business. His wife works as a nurse at an urgent care center. They have a 12-year old daughter in middle school. He drops his daughter off at school in a light snow and heads to work. His wife left at 6:00 for her job. His wife gets the automated message that school is closing – but not until several hours later because she was working with patients. By that time the daughter has been transported by bus to their apartment which is also home to an uncle with a serious drug problem.

They have been attentive to the need to supervise his interactions with their daughter. If either parent leaves work, they lose pay and potentially their jobs.

Students and Unexpected Snow Days

Jonathan is in the fourth grade. He likes school and works hard to be a good student. He lives with his grandmother who works third shift at a plant in a neighboring county. He gets himself up and dressed as his grandmother arrives home. He walks to the school bus stop and realizes he forgot gloves and his heavy jacket, but it’s too late to go back for them. He’s hungry, but knows he’ll get breakfast at school. He waits and waits, but the bus doesn’t come. Then some neighbor kids yell out that school is closed today for snow.

So he trudges back home, knowing that his grandmother will be sleeping and all he is allowed to do is turn on the TV with the sound very low.

When bad weather affects the safety of children, it has a ripple affect on other aspects.

While these aren't actual people's stories, they are very much the reality for many people in our community. It’s hard to grasp how being at home isn’t the safest place for some children. It’s hard to grasp that the food some children get at school is the only food they get for the day. It’s hard to grasp that parents will lose their pay or their jobs to take care of their children. It’s hard to grasp that missing school days can put some children way behind in their learning. None of these stories are uplifting, but there are some ways they could have good endings.

How would you imagine a community stepping in to support these families? What kind of help would be most useful in these three stories? Let’s consider the opportunities – before this nasty winter takes too big a toll.
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