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APS parent speaks out against blizzard bags

4/10/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Letter to the Editor

To the editor:

As the parent of an Akron Public School (APS) student, I try to stay informed of what is happening with the schools. One of the things that I do every week is to read the newsletter that my child’s principal sends home. One of the most recent newsletters informed the parents that instead of making up the days that were called off due to weather in January and February, we would be receiving three days of “blizzard bags.”

I inquired of my daughter’s principal as to what blizzard bags were. I learned that they are going to be three days’ work that the students will have to do in place of the three days of missed classes. The article [“Blizzard bags, not extra days, to make up calamity days”] in the West Side Leader on March 27, 2014, explains this even further. The article further talks about the negative feedback surrounding the school year received from parents and school employees. The bags can be real or virtual — meaning online.

While this sounds like a great idea, I see a few problems with the thinking behind and planning on the use of blizzard bags. First, many APS student do not have access to the Internet at home. [APS Superintendent] Mr. [David] James is quoted as saying that students can use the computers at school before and after school and the libraries will have copies of the assignments. This is great if your child can walk to/from school or if you are not a working parent who can supervise your child at the library. Likewise, Mr. James is forgetting that many APS parents are not computer literate and will not be able to assist their child(ren) with any computer issues. Additionally, in the case of our elementary students, who is staffing the schools to allow them this time to work on the bags? If a virtual bag is created, it will mean that many students will receive zeroes for the assignments and be marked absent for those days.

In the case of actual bags with pages of work to do, I would like to encourage someone from the board to spend some time talking with teachers from each of the clusters. What they would learn is that compliance on getting regular homework assignments [done] is not very great, especially at schools with a high poverty rate.

Are we creating something that will, in fact, satisfy legal requirements but not really add to student learning? Are we creating a situation where students will fail not because of an inability to complete the goals of the assignments but because of their inability to access the assignments? Are we doing more harm than good in this situation?

While I understand the backlash that resulted from the idea of adding days to the school year, the board also needs to be realistic. We are an urban district with urban problems, and blizzard bags are not an urban solution that will benefit most of our students. The district needs to come up with an alternative to the bags or be prepared for three days’ worth of attendance and work being recorded with very low numbers.

Alexis Shuler, Akron

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