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Special Credit to NH Sunday News for letting us post this article.

Blizzard Bags deemed a big success in Kearsarge Schools

New Hampshire Union Leader

By the time June rolls around, students in the Kearsarge School District may find it hard to hang with friends across the state; everyone else may still be hitting the books while they head to the beach.

Thanks to a program that allows students to complete class work at home when storms close schools, Kearsarge classes are on track to end June 15. Many other school systems won’t begin summer vacation until June 21, 22 or later.

“The participation rate and the success of the program this year have been more than we could have hoped for,” said Kearsarge Superintendent Jerry Frew. Known as the Kearsarge Extended Learning Network (KELN), the program allows students to complete assignments either online or using printed versions distributed in “Blizzard Bags.” Teachers make themselves available to assist students via e-mail or blogs, if necessary.

The New Hampshire Department of Education has authorized the district to use up to three KELN days, which count toward the mandated 180 school days a year.

Frew got permission in 2009 to conduct the program, and a committee of representatives from every district school and grade level met that summer to design the Blizzard Bags, brainstorm lesson plan ideas, and create parameters and expectations for the program.

The state mandated that a minimum of 80 percent of district students and teachers participate in KELN days for them to count as regular days. Participation is verified by recording the number of students who turn in work the next school day and the number of teachers who logged into district e-mail accounts during the snow day. The district has already held two Blizzard Bag Days this school year.

“I was thrilled with the attendance; you couldn’t ask for anything better,”saidFrew.“Wehad our first Blizzard Bag Day on Friday, January 12, and we had 95.5 percent participation by students. The second day was January 18, and we had 93.38 percent participation by students. Those are now two days we don’t have to make up late in June.”

Frew said the district is conducting an online survey to determine whether the at-home learning experience found favor.

“I think most students and staff were happy for the chance to take part,” said Frew. “There have been some parents who have more than one student in the district who may have had a problem juggling the work between kids, but most of the feedback has been positive.”

With districts across the state racking up snow days this month (some in southern New Hampshire have lost four days of school), Frew said the Blizzard Bag concept is getting noticed.

“We’re getting inquiries,” he said. “We’ve had other districts asking about it, looking for more information. Parents have also asked. I think if there are one or two snow days a year, it’s not a big problem for a district. But when there’s four, five, six, and school isn’t letting out until after June 20, it’s an issue.”

“Without their backing, it doesn’t work,” said Frew.

“But they are behind it, motivated by both the desire to keep up the continuity of learning and a desire to not be in class late into June. We did not have one complaint about a teacher being inaccessible those two days,” Frew said.

Kearsarge still has one Blizzard Bag Day available this school year, but Frew shied away from using it on Friday, opting instead to cancel classes for the day.

“It can’t be all work and no play,” said Frew. “They’ve got to enjoy the snow sometimes.”

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