By Olivia Barker-Dell and Anna Di Iorio-Reyes
You wake up with tired eyes, barely able to haul yourself out of bed because of the cold seemingly biting every vulnerable space of your skin. Dragging yourself to the window, you open your curtains and discover a wonderful surprise: snow. Your eyes, miraculously rid of sleepiness, light up as the realization dawns on you: no school today! You rush down the stairs straight to the television and stand nervously waiting for the Mayor’s announcement. The Mayor walks up to the podium, adjusts the mic, and announces, “school will be closed today due to the dangerous weather.” The rest of the broadcasting is a blur as you race to let the rest of your family know, and begin your snow day!
For students of New York City public schools, however, that excitement has been cut out of their school year.
The New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) announced in their 2021-2022 calendar that “On ‘snow days’ or days when school buildings are closed due to an emergency, all students and families should plan on participating in remote learning.”
Snow days are a rare occurrence in NYC (Mayor Bill de Blasio announced just 7 from 2014-2019) but that, to many’s dismay, is still being taken from students and staff.
The NYC DOE, who upkeeps the largest school district in America, said that to meet the 180 day school year requirement, they’d rather take away extreme weather days than cut into religious holidays or the summer break.
“There is a certain number of days that every school year must provide for every student in order to receive funding, so I think part of the decision is around making sure that we have enough days to meet the state funding requirements,” said Brady Smith, second-year principal of The Beacon School.
Although Principal Brady left room for justification, he still falls into the majority of people who are left disappointed by the DOE’s announcement. “In some ways, I understand it and support it, but I still love snow days,” he said.
NYC isn’t the only place trying to handle the controversial snow day protocol. Throughout the country, different states are debating and pushing for certain policies.
In some schools, there might be video calls and a full day of classes in an attempt to keep snow days and days students are in school as similar as possible. Others might have half days, or let go of video calls altogether and just give asynchronous work.
Beacon itself is also trying to work out a policy.
“[Remote snow days] would most likely be asynchronous, but we haven’t received specific guidance yet about whether we need to provide more structure than that,” Principal Brady said.
As we all know, COVID-19 has resulted in many things such as hospitalizations, fear, the closing of public places, and has taken away so many pleasures over the past year. However, one question remains: Would snow days still have been taken away if the pandemic didn’t happen?
“No,” Principal Brady answered without hesitation, “I think this is very much a response to all of the energy and resources that went into creating remote instruction,” and then adds, “We put all this energy into creating an asynchronous possibility so we want to justify that by using it when there are days that students can’t come into school.”
Several Beacon students were interviewed for their opinions on snow days, and were asked an array of questions. The overall consensus from Beacon sophomores was that snow days are cherished and of great importance. But as we look at a range of students who have grown up in different circumstances and have varying perspectives, the reasoning behind their joy for snow days differentiates. Snow days provide Beacon students and their families time to spend with each other, whether that’s sipping a steaming mug of hot chocolate, going out and playing in the fresh snow, or just relaxing snuggled up in a blanket.
As we know, Beacon students are very hardworking and get a substantial amount of homework each night. Sophomores Marin Chin and Hana Sullivan agree that one of the most valued aspects of snow days is the lack of stress and homework load that these days provide. And with that, this free time brings up an important topic of mental health. “I do enjoy snow days, I feel like they’re super important for mental health especially for students our age. When the workload starts piling up, and I have a lot of tests, it’s important to get that mental break” said Marin.
Adding on, Hana had a similar approach to Marin’s opinion on snow days. “There’s something oddly therapeutic about snow, just laying in it and playing in it is so calming, it’s just so childlike. And that’s something that kids need these days, with all of Covid. It’s just something about playing in the snow and acting like the world is okay, is very therapeutic.” As a fellow Beacon student that can relate to the heavy workload, and stress that comes from being a teenager, I can completely agree with Hana and Marin. Not only do snow days provide us with a break of homework, it also gives us a day to forget about all of our outside issues and focus on a day to relax and unwind.
Typical Snow Days
Our student body includes a variety of students from different backgrounds, families, experiences, and residencies. With these differences, we see both a range of different activities as well as similar traditions. Emma So, who was born and raised in the Lower East Side in Manhattan, takes advantage of the free time to spend time with their middle school friends and go to the local park to enjoy the snow. They say, “I live near East River Park, and they have this big hill that I would normally go to when there was a lot of snow, just to go sledding. And because I don’t go to the same school as a lot of my middle school friends, I usually would just hang out with them.” Similarly, Marin Chin from Forest Hills, Queens, typically will hang out with friends, go sledding, shovel, and run inside to drink hot cocoa! Hana shares the memory of having certain activities done each snow day, a snow day tradition one might say. “I would go outside with my brother, and we would build an igloo in front of the house. And it was something so uniform about how every snow day we would do the same thing, so it just felt extra nostalgic.” said Hana, a fellow sophomore. Overall, snow days bring students, teachers, and families of beacon, at the least, that great feeling of nostalgia, whether that comes from building a snowman with your siblings, or coming inside from a long day in the snow and watching the snow pour out of your jacket.
As someone who loves and cherishes snow days, I was extremely disappointed when I heard the Mayor announce the implementation of remote snow days. The ending of complete freedom on these weathering days came as a complete surprise to me, I thought after a year and a half on Zoom, the public and government wouldn’t be too happy to send students back online. But others at Beacon had different perspectives and ideas I hadn’t thought of, such as Principal Brady and Marin Chin. Both had been asked a simple question: What was your initial reaction to the Mayor’s decision to turn snow days into remote school days? Marin responds, “I mean I was a little upset because I really do enjoy snow days, but to be honest I kind of figured they would do that… now that we have access to more technology.” She says the reason she wasn’t as surprised as I was, was for the fact that we had our first day of online school in March 2020 and then stayed online for another year and a half after. So, now that the city has learned and adapted to the online way of educating, why not take advantage of it? Principle Brady Smith brings up another few ideas that never came to mind, he says “I love snow days, I was sad that they changed the policy to we don’t have snow days anymore.” But Brady mentions that while he enjoys snow days the way they used to be, many students and parents, K through 12, welcome an extra set of worksheets or videos to learn from during these days we aren’t able to attend school. So something I didn’t think of before researching and interviewing others, was not just my opinion and circumstances, but all of New York City’s students, teachers, parents, and faculty members, the big picture.
Do you think the New York City DOE made the right decision in transforming snow days into remote school days?