No islands in the snow Schools closed: No reason students shouldn't have stimulating assignments for snow days.

January 12, 1996

THERE WAS A TIME when a blizzard truly turned many households into islands with little contact with the outside world, but those days vanished with the horse and buggy. The thousands of school children staying home all week may not be able to reach their classrooms. But with telephones, television, radios and, increasingly, home computers with modems, they are hardly isolated from the rest of the world. So it hardly makes sense to assume that learning has to stop simply because the school buses aren't running.

We like the idea put forward by Mike Bowler, The Sun's education columnist, that schools should find ways to make use of snow days. There are any number of possibilities, from prepared packets sent home as winter approaches containing assignments designed for use only if school is called off.

Teachers could be available by telephone, or students could simply complete the assignments as they would homework. Baltimore city schools are already trying the idea by requiring that students write an essay about the snow. That's a start, but we would hope future assignments would become a bit more creative and challenging.

As computers become more ubiquitous, electronic discussions by modem would provide ready-made ways for students to use their home-bound time well. Some Howard County classrooms are trying that out this week. And there is certainly no reason Maryland Public Television couldn't work with schools to provide some ready-make programming for such occasions. Lively, informative instructional programs on weather or other topics, ready made for such occasions, might even find audiences in other states.

The horse-and-buggy era is gone. With all the means of communication available -- or even with some foresight and creativity in drawing up assignments that can be done alone -- schools could find ways to keep students learning despite severe weather, thus avoiding the headache of making up all those lost days.

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