Pinkerton to Pilot ‘Blizzard Bags’ for Snow Days

Students at Pinkerton Academy will get a chance to do some class work on so-called “snow days,” and during hurricanes, ice storms and power outages, with the goal of getting out earlier in June.

This fall the semi-private school, which educates students from Derry, Chester, Auburn and Hampstead, will pilot its first “Blizzard Bag” program. With Blizzard Bags, Pinkerton officials hope students will keep up with their class work, even on days when they can’t make it to class.
Dean of Faculty Beverly Lannan said the administration has been looking at the concept for about three years, ever since the state Department of Education approved it as an option. “There have been so many snow days,” Lannan said, referring to the unpredictable weather of the past decade. “We put together a committee to research this two full years ago.”
Life Science teachers Lisa Lavalley and Ed Faszewski co-chaired the committee. “It’s a really good concept,” Lavalley said, explaining why she wanted in. “It’s not just for snow days, but for ice, hurricanes, floods.” A major weather event such as the 2011 “Snowtober” can cause students to get behind in what they need to learn, she said.
Faszewski agreed. “It’s a way to have some consistency during the school year,” he said. “With one ice storm, we were out for a week.”
The assignments aren’t random and they don’t have a shelf life, according to Lannan. When a major weather event is forecasted, teachers receive two to three days’ notice, and they are asked to prepare a lesson relevant to what they’d be teaching that week. The “blizzard bag” isn’t a literal bag, Lannan said, but an on-line folder where each subject teacher uploads a prepared lesson. The lessons are done on-line, she said, although a student without computer access can request a hard copy.
“The student will do the lesson and the teacher will be on-line for at least three hours to answer questions and guide them through it,” she said. The teachers won’t be chained to the computer – they can shovel snow or tend to their own children – but they will be expected to have a presence, she said.
The assignment will not be “busy work” but will be of the same rigor they would see in the classroom, Lannan said. And if they don’t do the work, they will receive a zero.
“The ‘busy work’ aspect was one of the concerns teachers had,” Faszewski said.
Teachers are required to take attendance, Lannan said, and an 80 percent participation is required by the state for the assignment to count.
Spanish teacher Peter Schmidt helped with the pilot. A teacher set up a Blizzard Bag assignment and had students practice it, going into their “bags” and completing the assignment. It was a reading assignment with questions to answer, he said.
While many assignments will be traditional reading, writing and completing problems, they haven’t ruled out hands-on activities, the two science teachers said. “They could do experiments with household items,” Faszewski said.
A student could also shovel snow for a specified time and then measure their heart rate, Lavalley said.
They will interact with teachers on a discussion board, where they can ask questions and see what other students are doing.
The students have 48 hours to complete the assignment, in the event they don’t have a computer – or they lose their electrical power, Lavalley said.
Headmaster Mary Anderson wrote a letter to parents detailing the program. There was only one negative comment from a parent, Lavalley said, and that was a concern that the work not be “busy-work.” The details were presented to faculty Wednesday, Oct. 23, and training is set for Nov. 6.
“The faculty response has been overwhelming,” Lavalley said.
Lannan said the program will be piloted this year, and in the spring it will be evaluated as to effectiveness.
And while it won’t be a day off, Lavalley said she doesn’t mind spending three hours with students on-line. “Most snow days I end up doing ‘school stuff’ anyway,” she said with a shrug.