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An above-average response to below-average weather

On a Monday morning, students file into class tiredly, heavy backpacks thudding as they drop them to the ground. Some students immediately lay their heads on their desks, others look almost relieved to be back. This isn’t just any Monday morning; these students haven’t been to class in the last ten days.

   Starting on Friday, January 25, West Ottawa Public Schools had six consecutive snow days. Every student hopes for a day off when a winter weather advisory is announced, but six in a row make it difficult to get back into the rhythm of education.

   Teachers fear they won’t be able to cover required course material, directors worry that their ensembles will be out of practice, and club leaders stress over whether their students will be ready for the public. But students and teachers aren’t accepting defeat to the weather. Instead, they’re working to be better than before.

   Throughout what Instructor Cherylyn Weyhmiller jokingly dubbed “Snowmageddon,” students received Google Classroom updates assigning work to help classes stay caught up. These assignments had a low completion rate and only covered a fraction of what could have been done in class, leaving many classes in a time crunch to cover all the required coursework.

   Weyhmiller, who teaches AP and IB Physics, said,  “The snow days have put us very behind. Normally, in AP we’d be about two chapters ahead of where we currently are and in IB we would be one topic ahead.” The AP and IB programs prepare students for standardized and international exams in early May. These tests will cover the same information whether or not West Ottawa has had time to cover it.

   Weyhmiller is concerned about whether her students will learn all the information in time, but she has a plan in place to help them. “I’m going to have to to do more Saturday study sessions this year to make sure we cover all the material on time,” Weyhmiller said. The snow days have set her classes back, but she won’t let that stop her from helping her students succeed.

   Music classes, which need in-class rehearsal time to really succeed, also felt the effects of the snow days.

   “WO Choirs typically have the month of January and the first week of February to rehearse and prepare for Choral Festival in the second week of February.  The winter weather took away many days of essential collaborative rehearsal time,” Choir Director Erin Stier said.

   By the time students returned to class, they had only a week and a half left to rehearse, and after a week and a half not rehearsing at all, it might not have been enough. But as it turned out, there was no reason to fear.

   “Everyone really stepped up,” Stier said. “They practiced and prepared independently, using Chromebooks and materials on Google Classroom to keep the artistic process going.  The winter weather could have been a good excuse for being less-than-prepared for Festival season, but through an exceptional work ethic and commitment to excellence, WO Choirs proved that the winter weather was no match for their persistence!”

   Three of West Ottawa’s five choirs earned results in the top 10 of the 87 participating choirs. All choirs qualified for State Choral Festival in May.

   For the majority of the snow days, after-school activities were canceled too. One of these activities is the Dutch Dance program led by Instructor Josie Cheney.

   “Snow days have taken a toll on Dutch Dance practice!” Cheney said. “We had to cancel three practices due to snow days, and then had to miss another practice because the high school Showcase event had to be rescheduled.”

   Missing four practices may not sound like the end of the world, but according to Cheney, every practice is crucial.

  “We only practice twice a week, and we have to learn all three dances and be ready to perform for thousands of visitors the first week in May.”

   Dutch Dance performances are one of the highlights for tourists coming to Holland for Tulip Time, and poorly-prepared dancers reflect badly on the City of Holland and on West Ottawa. Cheney can’t risk not having enough practice time.

   “I have scheduled one makeup practice and may have to schedule more in order to learn the dance in time for Tulip Time,” Cheney said.

   Although snow and ice have set West Ottawa Dutch Dance behind, Cheney is working to help dancers prepare so that visitors can see them at their best when the sun is shining again in May.

   Over the course of what was essentially an early spring break, many school activities found that the time off meant they were unprepared for what they needed to accomplish. Any of these teachers could have accepted mediocrity in their students come this spring, but they didn’t. Instead, they came up with plans to keep things on track.

   West Ottawa hit the ground running after an unexpected week off, and that’s due to incredible resilience and effort from its staff and students.

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