Blizzard Bags Get High Rating in School District

“It Snowed. It Snowed. It Snowed a Lot.” That was the message on the first slide in a PowerPoint presentation by the Derry Cooperative School District’s Blizzard Bag Committee. The district used the at-home lessons for the first time this winter and the teachers crafting the lessons reported on them at the May 12 School Board meeting.

The Blizzard Bags were used on four snow days: Feb. 2 and 9 for the entire district and Feb. 17 and 18 for Gilbert H. Hood Middle School, when children stayed home due to a burst pipe.
Surveys taken by parents, students and staff were central to the presentation, with additional pages of comments presented to the board.

The parent surveys brought 929 responses covering children in all seven district schools. Parents were asked what school their child or children attended, what grade they were in, whether their child participated in the lessons, and whether they attend Hood.
For the first Blizzard Bag day, Feb. 2, 98 percent of the parents said their children participated. The same percentage participated in the second day, Feb. 9.

Parents were asked on average how much time their elementary child spent on the lessons, with the following responses:
• 0 to 1 hour, 18 percent;
• 1 to 2 hours, 30 percent;
• 2 to 3 hours, 16 percent;
• 3 to 4 hours, 7 percent.

Parents writing “not applicable” were 26 percent.
The fifth question was for parents of middle-schoolers and asked how much time their children spent on the lessons, with the following responses:
• 0 to 1 hour, 8 to 9 percent;
• 1 to 2 hours, 17 percent;
• 2 to 3 hours, 14 percent;
• 3 to 4 hours, 7 percent.

The last question on the survey asked if the parent(s) were in favor of continuing with the Blizzard Bags, with 854 of the respondents in favor and 75 opposed, translating to a 91.93 percent approval rate and an 8 percent lack of approval.

Board member Ken Linehan asked how many families had opted out of the lessons and superintendent Laura Nelson said that figure was less than 10 percent. The district has its 80 percent or better response and the lessons will be counted as class days.

In their PowerPoint, the committee members explained that video directions for the lessons were available on Google Classroom and also on the School Administrative Unit (SAU) 10 Web site. There were different forms of communication, they said. Students in Kindergarten through grade 3 did not use Google Classroom, but their parents communicated with their teachers through e-mail. Students in grades 4 through 8 communicated directly with teachers through Google Classroom.

“What is in a Blizzard Bag?” another slide asked. The “bags” contain a reading lesson, a math lesson and an Acts of Kindness project. For the first sessions this year the lessons were done on paper, the teachers said, with the expectation that they will be done electronically in the future.

On the day after the Blizzard Bag Day, teachers took “attendance” from the snow day, then broke their students into their Blizzard Bag Groups, where they reviewed the work, discussed it and collected it.

Ninety-two percent of parents are interested in continuing the Blizzard Bag lessons; 74 percent of students want to continue; and 95 percent of teachers want to continue with the concept, which cuts down on “snow days” and allows students to end the school year earlier.
In a section titled “Frost Heaves,” the committee discussed what they could do better.

They will be working on better differentiation for reading levels and more fundamental math practice and are considering “audio podcasts” to deliver stories. They did note a miscommunication with parents who thought they didn’t have to submit the material for five days and have clarified that, the teachers said, noting, “They need to return the paperwork the day after the Blizzard Bag day.”

Nelson said the staff and administration would be reviewing the surveys and other data. “We want to see what we can do to improve,” she said. “We have some parent concerns and we want to look at them and develop programs that meet more student needs.”