'Blizzard bags' give kids work during calamity days

Some Ohio second-graders woke up Wednesday to find that school was canceled again.
MCT Wire
Feb 7, 2014

But they had to pay for it this time. First, according to an assignment posted online, they had to read a short book about a boy’s adventures in the snow. Then they needed to make some snowballs, take them inside and watch them melt in different situations.

“Record observations every 30 minutes,” the assignment said. “Which snowball ...will last longest?”

This was the science portion of some schools’ second-grade “blizzard bag.” The math portion asked students to use pennies or Cheerios to practice addition and subtraction; in language arts, the kids needed to read Jack and the Beanstalk and take a quiz about it.

“As long as the kids are going to be home, it’s great they have something to do instead of watch TV,” said Alice Hohl, mother of a second-grader and a third-grader at Hawthorne Elementary in Westerville.

Students have up to two weeks to finish the work.

Westerville, Hilliard, Upper Arlington and Canal Winchester took their first district-wide shots yesterday at using blizzard bags — assignments posted online or sent home that schools can count as a full day of instruction. Olentangy schools used blizzard bags for the second time this school year.

School districts in Ohio are allowed five calamity days each school year under current state law before they have to start making up days.

Michigan students get six calamity days – and all our local schools are at their max. When they go over, they add minutes to the end of school days, or add days to the end of the school year.

A 2011 provision in Ohio, though, allows schools to use blizzard bags for three extra days. This is the first year since the provision that many school districts have exceeded five days of canceled classes.

Other districts that don’t have the option in place, including Grandview Heights and New Albany-Plain, are exploring adding it before the season is over.

In the ever-changing environment of Ohio education, however, the blizzard bags could soon become moot.

A proposal in the General Assembly would add four calamity days this year, meaning districts wouldn’t have to make up days until they canceled classes nine times. Next year, districts will measure class time in hours instead of days, and most far exceed the minimum number of hours.

In theory, many districts will be able to cancel classes for weeks before needing to make them up.

But for now, schools are going forward with their blizzard bags.

“I think it’s good to have another day of instruction,” said Tom Ash, director of governmental relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators.

The blizzard bags aren’t all about gathering snow and watching it melt. An Olentangy High School Advanced Placement physics assignment has students answering questions such as this:

“A 0.30-m long straight wire moves at a constant speed of 9.5 m/s perpendicular to a magnetic field of strength 0.083 T. What EMF is induced in the wire?”

Wednesday was the seventh time Olentangy schools had canceled classes this school year, and the second time the district had used blizzard bags. The first go-around last week didn’t go so well, said Michael Straughter, a district spokesman. Some of the assignments weren’t current, and the district had to correct them.

The second time was the charm.

“I’m glad to say that things are humming along so far,” Straughter said yesterday.

Parents and students reported a little difficulty elsewhere in printing or accessing some assignments. Westerville fourth-grader Andrew Shady had some trouble, but was able to work on his typing and math skills with his mother beside him.

He would have preferred playing video games and making snowmen with the neighbors, but Laura Shady was happy for the work.

“Since Christmas break, they haven’t been to school for a consistent five days,” said Shady, who also worked with her kindergartner on his assignments. “They are missing out on a lot of learning. This would have been great if they would have done this in the beginning.”

— By Jeb Phillips (MCT)


Former Grandhavenite

They'd better not try that snowball making experiment in the GHAPS district since (at least when I was there) you could be suspended merely for making a snowball without even throwing it at someone. One assistant principal suggested that you would also face criminal charges for manufacturing a weapon on school grounds. It was so over-the-top that a lot of kids were snickering during the assembly they held to remind us of the anti-snowball rules.


That sounds like the putz who used to be a principal at Griffin. He actually kicked my kid out of school for a snowball incident. It became obvious after repeated run-ins with this clown that he had it in for the kid so we moved him to Ferry and didn't have anymore problems.

I noticed not long ago that he'd retired so maybe a more rational replacement has been installed in his old spot. Too late for my kid and his "weapon making", but at least kids going there now don't have to suffer thru his anal retentive approach to education.


how does one make a snowball out of a half inch of snow?? I lived in Westerville...they would call snow days for a predicted 2 inches of snow...bring them up here...show them real snow.


wait! I reread.....they are proposing 9, NINE????? snow days in an area that doesnt see a great deal of snow? We get 5 days?..hhmmmm....Ohio = sissies. Maybe we should petition for the month of January off and places like Fargo, ND should suspend all school days from Nov-April


As someone who grew up in GH and currently lives in (and has children attending) Olentangy Local Schools, the conditions here this year have been anything but typical. Several of the days have been canceled not for snow but for wind chills below -20F. It is not safe for children to wait at bus stops nor walk to school at this level. This past week we canceled because we got 6 inches of snow covered by ~0.2 inches of ice, making roads impassable. The extra days we may be getting this year are a one-time calamity day (not snow day, as they can be used any time the school has to close) extension, similar to a state of emergency.

As for the blizzard bags, I have three children in various grades, and it has taken us about 4 hours each day to do the work, which is very similar to how many direct working hours they have at school, when you disregard recess and lunches. So they do actually do good work, at least in our district. Also, they are due within 2 weeks of the calamity day, so the information discussed is current to what they are learning, instead of tacking days in June to the end of the year when kids aren't paying attention.

This year has been quite extreme weather-wise, and in the last few years we typically have only one or two calamity days, if that. In no way are we being sissies, Karingh. It's just been as bad here as it can be in GH, but here they don't have the means to deal with it. And as someone who has lived through many MANY bad winters in GH, I can tell they are doing the best they can.

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