A lesson taught by the blizzard Home teaching: Students could continue to learn even while schools are closed if they had 'snow study packets,' wrote essays, conferred with teachers and gathered for afternoon group work.

The Education Beat

January 10, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

ONE SIZABLE group in Maryland education is relatively unaffected by the snow emergency: the 5,000 students who are educated at home.

And maybe there is a lesson in home schooling that the monolithic public school systems have yet to learn. When it snows, school is called off, the kids and their teachers stay home, and no one has a brain cell enriched until the snow melts, sometimes days later. (This is unique to the East Coast of the United States, by the way. School is seldom called off in industrial countries with much more severe winter weather.)

But why not take advantage of home schooling? Well ahead of time, why not prepare a "snow study packet," appropriate to age and grade level, for each student in Maryland? Mark it, "Do not open until snow closes school" and send it home in early November. Match the curriculum to the winter season. Have the kids study weather forecasting, for example, or black history during February, or the American heroes of winter -- Washington, Lincoln, King. In short, make it a correspondence course.

Have homebound students write essays to be graded when regular school resumes. Invite them to confer with teachers -- who are equally snowbound -- by telephone. (Students with interactive computers can consult by modem, as a few are doing this week in Howard County.)

Get all the kids on the block together for some afternoon group work. Get public television involved. (Maryland Public Television gave more than two hours last week in behalf of college financial aid. Why not in behalf of education during snow emergencies?)

If the educators went about it with a solid plan, perhaps the hours of home instruction during snow emergencies could be counted officially, thus saving "snow days."

"It sounds like a solid idea to me," Nancy S. Grasmick, the frustrated state school superintendent, said yesterday. (Dr. Grasmick was snowbound at her Baltimore County home.) "I'd be more than willing to convene a representative group of the 24 Maryland school districts to discuss it."

Dr. Grasmick also said that extending the school day -- rather than adding days in June -- "was proven during the 1994 ice storms to be a much more productive way of making up the time missed during snow closings." So look for lengthened instructional days rather than a drawn-out year when Maryland schools emerge from the current crisis.

Christopher T. Cross, president of the state Board of Education, also is frustrated. "We need more creative ways to confront winter weather," he said. "This is a creative idea that should be considered. We also need to find ways to use technology more creatively when the weather shuts us down."

Mr. Cross was a member of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning, which two years ago reported that American students lag in the time they spend studying basic subjects. Students in Germany, France and Japan spend more than twice as much time as their American counterparts on core academics, the commission said.

The students overseas also spend much less time at home while it snows. "That seems to add insult to injury," Mr. Cross said.

Any tinkering with the instructional calendar faces opposition. Shifting instruction home during nasty weather will be resisted by the same folks who oppose year-round schooling -- and by those who oppose home schooling. Parents aren't qualified, they'll say. It's the schools' job. Some parents won't do it. It's inconvenient.

All of those objections are surmountable in a nation where education is one of the few things citizens pay dearly for, yet welcome gleefully when it's disrupted.

Johns Hopkins official retires after 26 1/2 years

One of Maryland's most productive university officials retired at the end of the year. Ellery B. Woodworth, special assistant to the president of the Johns Hopkins University, left Homewood after 26 1/2 years.

Mr. Woodworth, known as "Woody," served five Hopkins presidents as a lobbyist in Annapolis and Washington, where he is known almost as well as in Baltimore musical circles. Since 1980, he has been musical director and conductor of the Hopkins Festival Band, playing at university commencements and other ceremonies.

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