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Mark Hayward's City Matters: Snow day means play day at Boys and Girls Club

By MARK HAYWARD
January 20. 2018 2:29AM
Anthony Sandovol, 7, a student at McDonough Middle School in Manchester enjoys some cottony snow during a snow day from school at the Manchester Boys & Girls Club on Tuesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)



Wednesday’s snowstorm was like a Wagner opera or Victor Hugo novel.

Beautiful, but agonizingly long, with snow falling from before sunrise to after nightfall.

It was not as disruptive as the snow-cyclone or whatever-the-name was of that real snowstorm that fell in early January. But it was disruptive enough that school Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas called off school.

A day off for teachers and principals. A day of extra work at the Boys and Girls Club, which becomes the emergency caretaker for some 100 or so kids when snowfall silences school bells.

Halls, activity rooms and gym space fill with activity for kids faced with a rarity in their neatly scheduled world — unstructured play.

They make the best of it.

The gymnasium was the most free-flowing area of activity. Three sets of kids worked on gymnastic routines. Tweens played a full-court game of three-on-three basketball while grade-schoolers played touch football on the same court. And whenever a budding Kyrie Irving or Tom Brady was on the other end of the court, a few kids emerged to work on their 3-point shot.

“We just don’t bump into each other,” said hoop player TrayShawn Dunn, 11.

On most days, the Boys and Girls Club hosts 500 kids, most of them bused to the Union Street clubhouse after school lets out.

On Wednesday, the enrollment was only a fraction of a normal day: 111 kids at midday. There’s no bus service, so children either walk or get dropped off by a guardian. Kids start showing up at 6:30 a.m., and parents must retrieve them by 6 p.m.

“It’s never boring here,” said Jusius Guerrero, a fifth-grader at McDonough School. “The only reason I stay here is I get to do stuff.”

A normal, 500-kid day requires structure — gym, snacks, homework and programs are all run on schedules based on age. But a snow day is easy-going, freer-flowing. A time to goof off.

Kids suit up to go outside and shoot snowballs when they can get a worker to go out with them. A movie plays in the cafeteria. The gym attracts many. The computer lab gets overtaken by kids playing online games. Upstairs, kids built a fort with gym mats they dragged up a flight of stairs.

“On these days, 10 hours is a long time to keep kids occupied. Not only is it a challenge for us as a staff, it’s a challenge for the kids,” said Ken Neil, the Boys and Girls Club’s chief operating officer.

The more severe the storm, the fewer kids who show up, he said. For example, only about 75 kids showed up on Jan. 4. The lighter the snow, the better the weather, the more likely parents will go to work.

“My life continues; work doesn’t get canceled,” said Erika Rivera, who dropped her three children off on Wednesday.

Her kids are 13, 12 and 10, just on the cusp of staying alone at home all day. Were they home alone, Rivera would be going crazy, she said. (Actually, they are old enough to leave the club at any time; they just don’t know it, she said.)

Despite the day off, a subtle frustration wafted among the children.

Brian Defosses, a fifth-grader at McDonough School, was “kind of upset” with the snow day. He was in the middle of a school report on beluga whales and wanted to finish it, he said. He likes the club, though. “I don’t have to spend all day at home,” he said.

In the gym, athletic director Quinci Worthey said the first thing he heard from a kid was a complaint that the snow day means the school year will be extended.

Structure is so much a part of a kid’s life today. Their days are spelled out in smartphone calendars, drop-off and pick-up times, website activity logs, calorie counts at snack time.

Throw an unplanned snow day at them, and they have to do something foreign. They have to play.

“I think they’d prefer to be in school,” Worthey said. “I remember when I was a kid. I loved snow days.”

Mark Hayward’s City Matters appears Saturday in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at mhayward@unionleader.com.


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