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On snow days, even a principal plays

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There is nothing quite like a snow day from school. Even though a day off in February might delay the last school day of the year, pushing it farther back into June (or July!), even though it disrupts the flow of learning, even though when the phone call came this morning it meant that lots of kids wouldn't deliver their Valentines to friends on time, a snow day is a wonderful gift. A snow day is a treasure of unexpected freedom and possibility. That's the way it was when I was a kid - when there were "wolves in Wales" - and that's still the way it feels now that I'm the principal.

When the superintendent calls at 5 a.m., I start the "no school" telephone-call chain and then lie back and think about the possibilities: a walk in the snow, a leisurely breakfast, reading by the fire, baking, luxuriating in a day that is slowing to a pace set by deep snow. Meetings will be postponed, a little business conducted over the phone or Internet. The walk must be shoveled, the car plowed out and decaked; a few adult exigencies persist. But at the time I would normally be driving to work, my wife and I are walking the deserted streets of town, the dog scouting ahead.

A snow day is an echo of childhood. During my own days as an elementary school student, I recall eagerly listening to the radio for the school-cancellations announcements. "No school in the following communities ..." the DJ would intone, and then, in a time-honored ritual, read down the list of town names between weather reports and the morning's world news.

"No school" is the only big news. At the first intimation of a big snow storm, every kid in town would certainly have been sleeping with a transistor radio tucked under his or her pillow, ready for first light and The Wait. Since we lived in a town beginning with "W," and the school-cancellation list was read in alphabetical order, The Wait was long, tortuous, and full of delicious anticipation. All good snow days start with the tension of awaiting the official word. It's similar to Christmas morning before your parents come downstairs and all you can do is look at the presents under the tree and wonder what might be in that large box with your name on it.

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