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February 21. 2013 10:42PM

Pembroke to review blizzard bag results

While many students across the state settled in for an old-fashioned snow day several weeks ago as a blizzard swept through the state, students in the Pembroke School District were busy at work on their blizzard bag assignments, as the district attempted the controversial program for the very first time after adopting it this school year.

The blizzard bag program was developed by the Kearsage Regional School District, titled initially the Kearsage Extended Learning Network (KELN). The program, which was first piloted in the 2009-10 school year, allowed the district to institute up to five KELN days in a given school year, with students being assigned work over the Internet on what would otherwise be snow days.

The KELN days count as traditional school days, allowing school districts to meet their instruction requirements without altering their calendar.

Teachers are expected to be available online so they may assist the students as needed. Students lacking Internet at home are given a bag with hard copies of the assignments, hence blizzard bags.

The assignments are mandatory, and those who do not complete them are marked absent for the day. The state Department of Education requires, however, that 80 percent of the district's population participate for the blizzard bag day to count as a school day.

Pembroke reached the 80 percent participation marker required by the Department of Education. Whether this signifies a success for the program, however, some district officials are not quite ready to say, as doubts linger on effectiveness of online learning.

"I think it's a useful tool to have if you start piling up snow days," said Pembroke Academy Headmaster Michael Reardon. "I think when we have a moderate number of snow days, say two or three, I'm not so sure about it. ... I understand the whole 21st century learning idea, and there's certainly value in kids getting used to that, but to think that four hours doing that stuff is going to replace being in classes - that doesn't quite total up for me."

The district's leadership team will debrief on the blizzard bag day on Tuesday, March 5. Participation, parent response and student-teacher interactions are to be key themes of the debriefing. So far, however, parent response seems to have been positive.

"When I put out the parent alert, I got almost unanimously 'this is a great idea.' Some parents had questions about what happens if they lost power, but it was very positive," said Reardon.

Similar concerns about the program were raised in Hooksett earlier in the week. The district considered the program several years ago but ultimately decided against it.

School Board Vice Chair David Pearl brought up the program at the Feb. 19 board meeting, asking SAU 15 Superintendent Dr. Charles P. Littlefield to share his thoughts on the program.

"In many ways I'm a traditionalist, and I believe in two or three things: that quality learning and excellence is the result of high quality instruction and time on task," Littlefield said. "There's plenty of room for growth in the Hooksett School District. We haven't achieved yet with our kids what I would be satisfied with or what you should be satisfied with."

bclogston@newstote.com

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