By Chris Kieffer / NEMS Daily Journal
Getting students and teachers back into a rhythm after Christmas break is generally difficult, said Amy Alexander, who teachers senior English and oral communications at Nettleton High School.
Add several snow days at the beginning of the new semester and the challenge is magnified.
“It has been difficult for the students,” Alexander said. “We were back after Christmas and we had gotten the kinks worked out from them being off those two weeks.
“We had just gotten everybody back into the swing of things and then that hits. It is like you are doing it all over again.”
Most Northeast Mississippi school districts closed their schools on Jan. 10-12 after heavy snow hit the region, and some schools remained closed on Jan. 13 and 14. Immediately after that snow melted came the Jan. 17 Martin Luther King holiday, and some schools were closed on Jan. 21 from another snowfall.
Many schools didn’t have a full week of classes until last week, and even that had been threatened by the possibility of snow on Tuesday night.
The fluffy precipitation has put teachers into a scramble as they try to hit their stride in the new year.
Susan Burchfield, who teaches 12th-grade government and economics at New Albany High School, is in her 25th year as a teacher. She said she doesn’t remember having this much time out of school during the month of January and said it is a particularly difficult time to miss classes.
“You feel that clock ticking every day and you know how many days you have before the state test,” she said.
“It does make it harder when you miss days after Christmas because you know that the state tests are coming in a few months and they do weigh heavily on districts and schools.”
The missed time has forced many adjustments for Northeast Mississippi educators.
Burchfield said it was a difficult task to reschedule tests that were missed during the snow days. For one, she didn’t want to hold a test on the day students returned. Then she had to check what other teachers had done so that students weren’t overloaded with too many tests at once.
Alexander said she had to spend about two-and-a-half hours redoing her schedule after having carefully planned out the first four weeks of the semester. She also said that students may get more homework because assignments that would have been completed in class will now need to be done at home.
Pierce Street Elementary fifth-grade gifted teacher Pam McAlilly has had to be flexible with her scheduling because the students who attend her class on Thursdays and Fridays are one week ahead of those who do so on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. That latter group of students missed her class during the snow week.
She has combined some classes and shortened some lessons and expects everyone to be caught up in a couple of weeks.
“It is a good way to examine what you are teaching,” she said. “By the end of the day, the students’ tongues are hanging out because we push them so much.”
Several of McAlilly’s students said they had noticed a difference in the pace of school since the snow days.
“The teachers tell us we are behind, so we need to do work quickly so we can be on time,” said fifth-grader Emily Ann Waters.
At Verona Elementary, third-grade teacher Shalon Clark-Ruth has been deliberate about including exercise breaks during class as her students adjust to being back in school.
“The more they move, the more brain activity they have, and the better they are going to be,” she said.
During a recent lesson, Clark-Ruth passed out a Post-It note to each of her students before they read the story “Pepita Talks Twice.”
The students were told to look at the picture for the story that was printed in their textbook and to write several questions about what they were about to read.
Clark-Ruth said as she tries to catch up students who missed three days of classes in January, she is emphasizing reading comprehension. She also said the Lee County School District’s decision to cancel its 60-percent days for the rest of the semester will help her get back some instructional time.
“It is a crunch,” she said. “You are trying to get all you can into their brains before the state test.”
The question is, what happens if there is another snow day?
“I am definitely holding my breath,” Alexander said. “I don’t want any more snow days. I don’t ever want to see snow again.
“I used to love winter. Now, not so much.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or firstname.lastname@example.org.