CADILLAC — The children should know their digraphs.
But blizzards, freezing rain and closed schools mean kindergarteners in Darcey White's Buckley classroom struggle to remember consonant clusters like "th" or "ch" or "sh."
“It’s one of the most challenging things,‘ White said, calling digraphs one of the beginning reading skills kindergarteners should be mastering. “It’s not sticking like it should.‘
Snow days are to blame.
“We’re here a day and then we’re gone,‘ she explained. "This is the most crucial time of the year because they learn the most."
Instead, White is playing catch-up with her students. She teaches, then school is canceled. When they return, they review. School is canceled again, and the students' grip on the material grows fuzzy, so they do more review.
As of Monday, Buckley Community Schools had used 10 snow days, seven of which were in the past two weeks, according to the superintendent.
Other local educators agree that snow days mean students are spending their time in the classroom reviewing material instead of moving on to the next topic.
“If they miss three or four days of something . . . they might not remember what we were doing a week before,‘ said Andrew Kibbe, a sixth-grade teacher at Manton Consolidated School.
“It’s almost like you’re missing two (days) because you have to re-teach,‘ said Kibbe, whose sixth-grade language arts classes have been learning how to write literary essays based on books like "Where the Red Fern Grows," "Old Yeller" and "Hatchet."
"But now they finished those books several weeks ago, so it’s a little bit daunting," Kibbe said. “We’re always up for the challenge, though.‘
TEST SCORES AREN'T EVERYTHING
Snow days that knock students off course can also affect test scores.
With Michigan's statewide testing, MSTEP, scheduled for April, educators know scores could suffer after a winter spent in and out of school.
Kibbe's sixth-graders will be taking the test this spring.
“That day gets closer and closer every snow day we have,‘ Kibbe said. “I don’t feel like they’re going to get the most accurate results.‘
“It’s already a cramped schedule," said Leonard Morrow, superintendent of Manton Consolidated School, where school has been called off 13 times so far this school year, 12 times since winter break. "(Snow days) definitely puts a stress on that.‘
Jessica Harrand, superintendent at Buckley Community Schools, agreed.
"The test doesn't move," she said. "It is when it is."
While scores could be lower due to the timing of the test, teachers look at the year as a whole, said Cadillac Area Public School Superintendent Jen Brown. CAPS had used 12 snow days as of Monday.
“Our concern is not with the test scores, it’s more with the learning the kids have to have to be successful,‘ Brown said. “We will make sure kids get there by the end of the year so they’re prepared for the next year."
Buckley schools faced an extra testing challenge over the past two weeks of snow days.
Students in kindergarten through eighth grade were taking Northwest Evaluation Association tests from Jan. 21 through Feb. 8.
“It’s a great screening tool that helps us determine supports our students need in quick fashion," Superintendent Harrand explained. "It just helps us catch things before the year gets too far.‘
But fitting testing into the window while coping with snow days was hectic, Harrand said.
The school district did get the testing done, but it was hard on the kids, according to Harrand.
“If they start the test and you don’t have school for three days, it’s hard to pick it back up again,‘ she explained.
Students are full of energy when they return to school after snow days, teachers said.
“Kids are out of the school pattern and school routines,‘ said Morrow, the Manton superintendent. It takes time to get back in the groove.
Kids' sleep patterns shift after several days off school.
“That also has an impact when the kids are here at school,‘ Morrow said.
The kids need to be reminded about what the expectations are in school, White said. They don't always remember what rules they're supposed to be following and how they're expected to behave in a classroom.
But White says she loves teaching.
“You try to keep your head in there,‘ White said. "Just keep plugging forward."
In nine years of teaching, Kibbe has never seen this many snow days by early February, he said.
“I think this is new for everyone, really,‘ Kibbe said. “We’re all trying to keep a positive attitude. Safety has to come first.‘