By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — Elementary and middle school students in Derry may soon have a chance to keep up with their classroom assignments when the weather prevents school buses from rolling.
The Derry School Board approved a measure to explore the possibility of putting a blizzard bag program in place next year.
The program gives students classroom work to do at home in case of a day off from school due to inclement weather or other emergencies. The plan is designed to keep district snow days to a minimum.
Superintendent Laura Nelson said she is excited about the program and wants to put a pilot plan in place.
“I’ve heard a lot of positives about blizzard bags; it gives students the opportunity to learn at home on a snowy day,” Nelson said. “We would need to develop a program and follow a few rules before doing it.”
The blizzard bag idea came up in 2009 and the state Department of Education opened up the option to all school districts.
The Kearsarge Regional School District was the first to implement the program. Nelson said she and a team representing Derry visited that school district.
“We left them ready to get this program started,” Nelson said. “We walked out with a lot of information. We have a lot of resources on how to structure and develop what we want our program to look like.”
There is a specific course to follow. That includes having School Board approval, then submitting a proposal and application to the state.
There has to be an 80 percent participation rate among the students for the day to count.
Nelson said parents, teachers and staff were surveyed to get their thoughts on blizzard bags.
She said support was favorable for trying the program in Derry schools.
The state allows a district to apply for up to five days to use as blizzard bag days.
Nelson said a blizzard bag team would be put in place to start the process. There will be informational meetings and district officials will seek public input on blizzard bags.
Pinkerton Academy participated in its own blizzard bag program this past year, using several official days for students to do work at home to be counted as a regular school day.
Officials there reported success in the school’s pilot year for the program, but said there is more to learn.
Parents and students were surveyed during the year to give their input on the blizzard bag program, what they liked or didn’t.
Beverly Lannon, Pinkerton dean of faculty, said there were many positives, but also things that need to be tweaked as the school moves forward.
“We’re still reviewing,” she said earlier this year. “The kids are participating and they are doing their assignments. That’s all we can ask for.”
Londonderry High School also piloted blizzard bags in 2011. That town’s School Board is contemplating revisiting the program.
Londonderry could consider the program for all grades. Superintendent Nate Greenberg said at an earlier School Board meeting that Londonderry could learn from the other school districts and their success.
At the high school level, most blizzard bag work is done online, but hard copies of homework are also distributed.
Derry’s younger students would most likely do more work on paper than online, Nelson said.
School Board member Ken Linehan said he had concerns, but also saw the good points of a blizzard bag program.
“I think it ‘s a good idea, I just need to know more,” he said, “like what are the expectations of the parents, how does it line up with curriculum? What problem are we trying to solve? I don’t see snow days as a problem.”
Nelson said there would be a lot of preliminary work by the team to get the application and proposal in place. But having blizzard bags in place in case there might be two or three days of school missed in a row could be a big help.
The program would cater to all grades, kindergarten up through middle school, with work tailored appropriately to all ages, she said.
“I like the idea, as it protects the end of the school year,” School Board member Brenda Willis said. “But I don’t want it to be just busy work.”
Willis said it’s worth a try.
“It’s great to explore it, and have the information,” she said. “But I still have a lot of questions as well.”
After a pilot year, Nelson said parents and staff would be surveyed again to get thoughts on the program. She said there is a lot of work to do, but she hopes to have a pilot blizzard bag program ready to go by the fall.
“I think we can develop it this summer, and by Dec. 1 have it ready to roll,” she said. “I don’t think we have to wait for another whole school year.”