Throughout my grade school years in Brooklyn, as the snow fell outside my window, I got such a feeling of elation when I saw the announcement of a snow day in a Department of Education tweet or from the mayor. Just a blast of serotonin. I remember the excitement my friends and I shared, knowing that we would finally have just one more day of peace from the laborious demands of eight school hours. A snow day was a traditional part of our childhood experience.
But last year came the coronavirus, temporarily revolutionizing our way of learning. Rain, shine, storm, snow, hail or hurricane, we were expected to Zoom into our lessons. Technology proved to be a blessing and demonstrated humanity’s collective power in adapting to the extenuating circumstances. Now, as normalcy approaches, the K-12 education and lifestyle will begin to feel the same as it did before, but one cherished hallmark will disappear.
The controversial New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered a particularly controversial blow last Tuesday to snow days, a built-in tradition obviously non-controversial among K-12 students. De Blasio declared seven snow days throughout his tenure, two more than former Mayor Michael Bloomberg did throughout his 12 years in office. However, De Blasio has now declared snow days a thing of the past. This came after the New York City Department of Education announced the 2021-22 academic calendar, where they added, “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.”
Mayor De Blasio could have made himself a champion of the youth, or at least, realistically, somewhat more likeable, by fighting the Department of Education’s decision to nix snow days. While it is understandable that a transition from “days off” to remote learning will mean that there won’t be missed education due to weather events, the decision ignores all the benefits that snow days have to offer, not to mention it disappoints students, particularly during a generation of youth impacted mentally and socially by the presence and politics of the pandemic. Holidays are planned throughout each academic calendar, but snow days are being cancelled because they are unplanned. Yet to children in New York, that spontaneity of being unprecedented is exactly what makes them so special and worth keeping.
School is hard. Waking up at 6:30 a.m. is quite daunting, especially when it means entering the R Train daily with other glum, sleepy faces. Eight hours of classes with just one class-length lunch period in between is a slog that may leave students impatient, bored, tired and longing to burst out of the doors. In general, it is a part of life and should be endured to educate oneself while also engaging with social circles. However, snow days offer something almost magical in their ability to increase levels of happiness and offer a sweeping, unexpected sense of relief. Students know when holidays are and they expect to compartmentalize based around those dates. On the other hand, the element of surprise behind snow days is exactly what comprises the fabric of this tradition.
Snow days are an opportunity for students to sleep longer, catch up on work and for some, give their battered mental health the break it desperately needs. If a student has three essays due across two days, a snow day would be enriching mentally and academically. That same student may need to go to softball practice every single day after eight hours of school, or even have student government at 7 a.m. A snow day coming out of nowhere is an opportunity for the student to make their day as flexible as it can be: catching up on sleep, getting in a nice hour of sledding and delegating the many remaining hours of the day necessary to get work done on time. Besides, remote learning itself lacks genuine aspects of an educational experience. If we do not have a raging pandemic that makes virtual learning a necessity, let’s just not have it.
Besides, the cheerful quality of snow days will be more significant given socially restrictive circumstances that have been ongoing since March 2020. Snow days will become more special because children can finally relive one or two winter snow days in all their glory that they have not been able to relish this year. In making a decision about whether to nix school days or not, the mayor and Department of Education need to take a more compassionate approach.
The people who are expected to get the bad side of snow days are teachers. When it comes to curriculums, wasted time means readjusting or speeding up. However, whether a snow day has a positive or negative impact on a teacher may depend on that particular teacher and curriculum. Sometimes, that unplanned day off can be a needed opportunity to readjust. Further, I remember having teachers throughout middle school and high school who have actually planned their curriculums in anticipation of 1-3 snow days, so no harm done. Let’s also not forget that teachers too love to recharge, catch up on sleep and revitalize themselves before returning to their quotidian routine, whether they love their students or simply cannot stand them.
What about the snow itself? Isn’t it awesome for children to get to play in the snow (assuming the winter storm abates) before it turns into slush, or worse, yellow? Children and parents relish the first word of “snow day” as a part of the tradition, a promoter of happiness far outweighing a more restricted day partially consisting of remote learning. One thing to note about this rare happy boost is that it does very little to affect a child’s education; I would argue it even improves it. So, for the sake of zooming down a hill or chucking a snowball at a sibling’s face once in a blue moon, why not keep snow days? The coronavirus pandemic has taken a heavy toll on children, especially younger ones. Some parents are already planning on not having their children tune in to classes online during snow days. Let’s hope that the absence of snow days in this new 2021-22 academic calendar released by the Department of Education does not become permanent, or, even better, let’s do something to reverse the current decision, Mr. Mayor.