Seven elementary schools are within walking distance of my home. They are a variety of public, private, and charter institutions. Many have kids coming from other parts of town, but a couple of the schools are more neighborhood focused. Each school forms its own community as kids make friendships and join in activities with their classmates. Like other places around the country this year, all these schools have had several days of being closed due to severe cold weather or snow.
Snow days throw a wrench into family life, leaving parents scrambling to find places for their kids or arrange time off of work. Recreation centers, local churches and mosques, and helpful neighbors all rally to help cover the needs of families who simply cannot take the time off to be home with kids when the polar vortex puts a stranglehold on things. While a snow day due to a super snowfall may lead to new snowmen and sled runs, prolonged subzero temps can make for bored and restless kids pretty fast.
Heading out to work, with the windchill hovering at levels that made me think Antarctica might feel better, I spotted a neighbor tucking her kids in the car. “We are going shopping at the thrift store,” she explained. “The new family that moved into the yellow house just emigrated from Myanmar and they have practically no clothes that are right for this cold. Do you have anything to share with them?”
I said I probably did, and arranged to drop by their house later in the day.
The bag I assembled held some sweaters, scarves, mittens, wooly socks, a dusty pair of old boots left from my own kids’ childhood, and a fun kids’ quilt from my collection. The neighbors were back from shopping and had piled a new plastic sled with bags of clothes and a few toys. Bundled up like they were heading on an expedition to the North Pole, the kids were excited to deliver the bounty.
Soon another family showed up with another bag. Carly, the oldest girl, introduced us to these newcomers as kids she had met at the rec center on the last snow day. “Bao and his brother live a block away but I never knew them until we played dodge ball,” she exclaimed.
Off the kids went to deliver the sled, with a cluster of adults watching from the window. It was like watching show-and-tell as the kids pulled out items to show off and give to the newcomers. We were delighted when the sled was dragged inside, with waves in our direction from the dad who answered the door with his little ones. The four delivery agents came giggling back. “He didn’t really speak English,” Bao shared, “but it didn’t matter, did it?”
No, it certainly didn’t.
While snow days may disrupt classroom routines, asking students to share what new experiences they had while school was closed just might reveal that their own sense of community was changed.
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