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ConVal district fine-tuning blizzard bag program

As they cross their fingers, hoping that no more snowstorms hit the region this spring, ConVal School District administrators are evaluating the results of the “blizzard bag” program, in which students are asked to complete assignments online or at home on days when school is canceled due to the weather.

“We had three blizzard bag days this year,” ConVal Assistant Superintendent Kimberly Saunders said last week.”The program is working and we’re not going to have to make up any school days.”

The blizzard bag program gives students at all grade levels an assignment for the day of a storm, and if 80 percent of students district-wide complete the work, the district receives credit from the state for a day of instruction.

Saunders said some parents have said the assignments aren’t as closely related to the curriculum as they could be and others have said it’s difficult to find computer time for students at home or to assist with the assignments when parents have to work themselves during the school day. But she said the main feedback she’s heard is that families appreciate that they can plan that the school year will end on a certain day.

Saunders said administrators fine-tuned the program after the first blizzard bag day in January.

“Students take home an envelope – not a bag – ahead of a storm,” she said. “At the high school and middle school level, they get it a day before if a storm is expected. Students at elementary schools got two assignments at start of winter season and another one before the most recent storm. Students are asked to bring in the work the next day and most of them do that. We do allow up to seven days to complete it.”

Assignments are available online at the ConVal website and teachers are expected to be available online to answer student emails and help with assignments as needed.

“There are clear roles for everyone,” Saunders said. “We haven’t had any teachers who aren’t able to be available. I haven’t had any complaints from parents about being unable to get in touch with a teacher.”

She said several parents who have more than one child in the district have said it’s difficult for their children to complete the assignment if the family has just one computer.

“We’ve also had people who question the amount of work on the assignments,” she said. “We need to take that feedback and figure out a way to improve the program.”

At the high school level, according to both Saunders and ConVal Principal Brian Pickering, students and parents both commented after the first blizzard bag day that the assignments weren’t relevant to what was being studied at the time.

“We had created general global lessons for all students, not directly tied to their course work or their grades,” Pickering said of the first blizzard bag assignment. “After the feedback we got, we shifted to creating specific lessons and on an anticipated snow day, we asked teachers to let students know what they had to complete for each class. We were much more successful the second time around.”

Pickering said the return rate on the second and third blizzard bag assignments was more than 70 percent for the high school, “a huge jump from the first one, which was in the 40s.”

He said students are allowed to finish their blizzard bag assignments during their TASC block, which is when students can get help from teachers in areas where they need it.

“It’s no different that any other assignment,” Pickering said. “They need to complete it to get a grade, and we give them the help they need.”

Saunders said the program has helped the district maintain momentum when weather disrupts the schedule.

“It does smooth out the stops and starts of winter,” she said. “But a blizzard bag day does not equal a day of instruction. I don’t think any of us are trying to say that. Ideally, we’d always want the student to be in school with a highly qualified teacher delivering instruction in real time. Online learning platforms are far away from doing that.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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