As snow subsides, classroom crunch grows; Howard teachers eager to get their students back on track


Although teachers in Howard County have enjoyed their recent respite from school -- catching up on sleep, running errands and enjoying their children -- experience has taught them it will be challenging to get students back on track when classes resume today.

Especially considering the myriad bell schedules that exist in the county schools -- block schedules, A-days/B-days, color-coded days, 4-by-4 schedules.

"When we get back, many students don't know what quarter it is, what day it is, what color day," Loraine McLarty, a health education teacher at Oakland Mills Middle School in Columbia, said with a laugh.

Teachers spend much of the first days back at school just getting students re-oriented.

The snow days came at a particularly bad time for Howard County high school students, who were in the middle of exam week. Those days, as well as time for teachers to grade the tests, must be made up. Howard County schools open today two hours late.

"Not only do you lose exam time, you also lose teaching time," said Rich Asendorf, a social studies teacher at Howard High School.

But making the days up can be tricky. For the high schools on college-like semester schedules, it is particularly hard, because theclasses missed during this semester aren't always the same ones that will be made up next semester.

"So the second term will be longer," Asendorf said. "But that doesn't help us in the first term. So some teachers are frustrated."

In the early grades, it is a little simpler. Some activities may be compressed, but not dropped, to make up time, teachers said.

Clemens Crossing Elementary School first-grade teacher Shelley McGill said that many parents are not letting pupils waste their snow days making angels and sleeping until noon.

"They are pretty much compensating at home, doing 'snow work,' " she said. "Of course, they're missing what we're doing in terms of Howard County curriculum, but my kids have been coming back ready to work. And [the missed days] aren't too critical as long as we're going to make the days up at the end of the school year."

State education officials last week were considering whether to waive the required number of school days districts have to fulfill by year's end to accommodate the emergency days that have kept students out of class this year.

Maryland students are required to be in school 180 days. Remnants from Hurricane Floyd and two snowstorms have cut five to seven days out of classroom time in most Maryland school districts.

So far, only Talbot and Montgomery counties have applied for the waiver, said Ron Peiffer, spokesman for the Maryland Board of Education.

But eight to 10 area superintendents have called Peiffer's office to ask questions about the waiver, he said.

The state Board of Education will discuss the issue at its meeting today, Peiffer said, and will meet Friday with superintendents to give them guidance.

Districts might want to wait until later in the winter before asking for a waiver of two or three days, he said, in case more bad weather is on the way.

"It's really pretty premature for systems to ask for waivers because it's typically well into March before we know we've gotten past this weather," Peiffer said.

If more inclement-weather days cause school cancellations, Oakland Mills Middle School teacher McLarty said, parents shouldn't worry.

"Teachers can handle it," she said.

Clemens Crossing Elementary teacher McGill agreed, saying teachers will teach well into the summer and get creative if they have to.

"Even if we have to teach in our bathing suits," she said.

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