Snow, Freeze, and School: Knowledge or Health?
My first academic year at Lehigh University is coming to an end. During the first semester, I was adjusting from Russian system of education to an American one. I was introduced to many new things. For example, I received all course plans with lists of reading material and assignments on the first day of classes, which is different from the Russian higher education system. It was new for me to have online classmates who study from other parts of the world and never see them physically in class. I learned that an online class method could be beneficial both for students and professors. If one of them is sick, he or she can join online and participate in class discussions.
However, perhaps the biggest surprise of being in an American education system was school closure regulations related to weather. I enjoyed winter in Pennsylvania. It was not as cold as in Yakutsk. Usual winter temperature in Yakutsk is -49F. Due to extreme cold temperatures, we have Schools Closing Days regulations. According to Yakutsk Department of Education, secondary schools shut down with the following order: students of 1-5 grades don’t have classes if temperature is -49F, students of 1-8 grades – -54.4F, students of 1-12 grades – -58F. These regulations refer only to students of secondary education. University students have classes in any weather. Other federal subjects of Russian northeast also have similar regulations for secondary schools, but may differ in temperatures.
I was surprised when higher education institutions got closed because of the snowfall. It wasn’t cold – it was just snowing. Even flights got cancelled or delayed because of the snow. Meanwhile, snow can’t stop Yakutia airlines pilots! For the first school shut down, I found it weird, but I enjoyed spending the day in my room. For the 4th time, students could start thinking about costs of each snow day since most of them pay for their education, particularly, about the price of each lost class (See more in post by Sarah Glickstein https://educationpolicytalk.com/2014/02/15/snow-days-not-snooze-days/).
Winter in Yakutia is a real challenge. Adults and children catch a cold very easily, which can last for several weeks. Some think that if you are from Russian northeast cold temperatures are nothing to you. I understand that peoples of Siberia got used to cold and learned how to survive in these extreme conditions. However, this doesn’t make us different. We are still people with the same rights. Winter in Yakutia is hard (cold weather, short sunny hours, wearing a lot of clothing, high-cost fruit and vegetables, 15-minutes-bus-wait when its -50F) and risky (e.g. a heating system is out, a broken car on way to other village, days without hot water, etc.). Farmers collect natural ice from lakes and rivers for domestic consumption and keep it under ground for summer use (ground is filled with permafrost).
Some American states have school closures due to extreme heat and humidity. Heat or cold, it happens annually and teachers develop their own ways of dealing with harsh weather conditions. Some turn to online education, while others adjust school schedules. In the case of Russian northeast, it would make sense to reform the academic year by moving the two-month holidays from summer to winter, while developing curriculum for the whole summer with one-month-holidays. This also can be applied to higher education and other areas. The reform must be widely discussed, but during winter, it could prevent catching colds, families might travel to warmer places like Sochi, and nomadic schools can have specific benefits as well.