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Still Frozen - Another No School Day

Instead of in school, in a giant plastic ball in my basement

Published in ChicagoNow, January 7, 2014

Come on Elsa (powerful ice queen from the movie Frozen). Please melt your frozen heart and loosen your grip on Chicago. I'll kiss you!

Yesterday I tried to help my daughter and granddaughters survive what we hoped would be the last no school day following two weeks of winter break. Break is a better word than vacation. Unless you went somewhere warm, two weeks of Chicago's early winter were enough to break even the most patient parent or grandparent. We accomplished all of the activities listed on yesterday's post, some better than others. Bowling was a bust but the big ball was fun for at least 20 minutes. The wacky string was a blast but we ran out in 5 minutes and then covered my basement floor with popped soap bubbles. Watched 20 minutes of the movie but never put on pajamas. Scooters, dancing, and baking — check. Any ideas for today?

As my daughter moaned seeing today's school cancellation in her email, she reminded me that her kids would now have missed 18 days of school in a row. Maybe not so bad if you are fun mom trying to see if bubbles really freeze or boiling water really steams when they hit the sub-zero air. But a total disaster if you have a child with special needs who thrives on routine. Another day without that predictable anchor of school will be a disaster.

I try to comfort her, saying we may still be able to make it to the violin lesson and after-school therapy sessions. She counters with the fact that, even if school opens again on Wednesday, next week there is a half-day for "school improvement," and the following week, there is no school Monday so people can "celebrate" Martin Luther King's birthday by going shopping (more on that later). The fact is that from week of December 16 to the week of January 27, there has not been a 5-day school week. And I'm not sure I should count the week of December 16 because some of it was devoted to holiday assemblies and parties.

Now to the larger issue: the school calendar. Rather than trying to cram so much learning into the 176 attendance days required by the State of Illinois, 6 of which are half-days dedicated to "school improvement" (a real scramble for working parents), why not consider adding days so learning could be consistent and take place at a more reasonable pace? Maybe more days would open up some time for putting creativity and fun back into learning. And while we are at it, why do our children still need 3 months off in the summer to lose 1/3 of the gains they made during the school year?

Let's look at some of the school "holidays" that break up the calendar into so many short weeks: Labor Day, Veteran's Day, King's Birthday, Presidents' Day, Pulaski Day (okay — that one's only in Illinois!), and Memorial Day. Even allowing for the first and last being potential family vacation time, why not have school on the other four days and spend the time learning about the people behind the holiday? Wouldn't that be a better way to honor them?

And then there are these lost frozen weather days. Yes, they will be added to the end of the school year in June, but we all know that little learning takes place after Memorial Day. We have to have parties, assemblies, game days, etcetera to celebrate the upcoming three months off for summer vacation.

Sorry, teachers. I was once in your ranks and treasured these days off. But I know I also paid for them with a lower salary than I deserved. And I wouldn't have minded not having to take low-wage summer jobs to supplement my income. So more days of work should equal more pay, if only we could afford it.

I have strayed a bit from frozen weather, but maybe not that much. Our frozen mindset about what constitutes a reasonable school year calendar is not good for children and their hard working parents, whose employers don't celebrate Pulaski Day. Check out all of the black bars and 1/2 day boxes on the 2013-14 school "year" calendar. Maybe then you will understand all of the upset Facebook postings from frantic parents.


by Laurie Levy
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