Challenging the Chill: Debate Over NTI on Snow Days

In this opinion piece, a student explores the importance of snow days and the use of Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) during winter weather.

A laptop with NTI on the screen sits amid a winter backdrop of light blue trees.

The winter season brings about one thing every Kentucky student wishes for: snow days. Considered a staple of childhoods across the United States, snow days offer a spontaneous break in our long school weeks. Except during the 2023-2024 school year, schools across the Commonwealth are opting for something a bit more reminiscent of the COVID-19 era.

In response to the potential loss of academic learning, schools are adopting Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) on snow days, which encourages "continuation of learning" when a school district is closed due to weather or safety reasons, according to the Kentucky Department of Education. This involves assigning work to students remotely and using online platforms to continue learning even when students aren’t in the classroom. With the spring season now here, how schools handle snow days is still on the minds of students. 

One senior from Beechwood High School in Kenton County questioned the effectiveness of NTI days. “I don’t necessarily think that NTI days are very effective, and most teachers that I know don’t like them either,” they said. “It’s a struggle to write lesson plans during different circumstances, so the homework assignments are always short and not very engaging.” This observation is the reality for so many Kentucky students. 

In addition to this, it’s important to consider the electronic disparities among students when NTI days are issued. “I think NTI days can offer a lot of stress if the student finds themselves in a household with unstable WIFI, or if the school isn’t providing a laptop,” Alejandra Saavedra, a student at Beechwood High School, told The New Edu.” 

However, technical difficulties were never the sole barrier to learning during difficult winter weather. The Kentucky Department of Education states that “prior to the inception of NTI, Kentucky school districts lost many days of instructional time due to health or safety related closures.” 

Teachers are required to assign work to their students to ensure extra days aren’t added to the end of the school year. The type of assignments or content is not specified or consistent, meaning that school work may be very minimal or irrelevant to actual learning done in classrooms. But how productive is it to assign classwork with little to no educational value? Some teachers may address the issue by giving students a “free day” or “workday,” meaning students have time to work on assignments or other work they need to catch up on.

Besides the triviality of some of these assignments and the inconveniences they could cause, some say requiring work rids the magic of the snow day itself. Snow days have been and continue to be a defining moment of childhood. According to Spectrum News, Kentucky averages about 11 inches of snow per year. So, for most parts of Kentucky, snow days tend not to be weekly, monthly, or sometimes even yearly occurrences. However, this past January, bad weather conditions led to multiple school districts closing school doors for multiple days and issuing NTI school days.

“Snow days are a part of the elementary, middle school, and high school experience. It gives something for students to look forward to when the winter season sets in,” Ember Curtis, a junior at Tates Creek High School, told The New Edu. Curtis explained why she believes they are so important to students’ mental health: “It’s not just the time off that makes snow days special. Don’t get me wrong, that part is great, but it’s more about what these days represent: a change in pace. It’s a surprise and a much-needed break from a normal school week. I think that’s what makes them so exciting.”

Ember makes a fascinating point.  As she stated, “a change in pace” perfectly describes what snow days are and what they represent. The limited presence of these days makes it harder to justify having NTI inserted instead of traditional snow days. Especially further along in the school year, that break for students and parents proves to be a welcome addition to challenging weekdays. As Cindy Burau, a fourth-grade teacher in Lake Tahoe, California, put it in The Atlantic: "Snow days are “like gifts from the heavens that we all need: a sigh, a moment.”

As the winter season comes to an end (although you never know with Kentucky weather), it’s important that we listen to student and staff input on NTI days. It’s easy for programs like NTI to get lost in translation when implemented at a legislative or low-involvement level. School districts and boards should be more in tune with the results or changes that NTI produces, as well as how it is perceived by teachers and students. NTI is meant to meet the needs of these school stakeholders as a priority. Going forward, districts and administrators should keep that in mind before issuing another NTI workday for students and staff.

(Original graphic by Ava Hurwitz)


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