By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — Elementary school kids might thrill to news of an unexpected snow day and the opportunity to sleep in and take it easy when they're usually expected to be at their desks.
Not so their older high school brothers and sisters, though.
Snow days and and two-hour delayed openings — of which there have been many this unusually cold and snowy winter — means the loss of critical instruction time.
So far this year more than 500 hours of class time has been lost because of bad weather, said Anderson High School Principal Terry Thompson.
Senior Hannah Achenbach, who later this semester will be taking tough advanced placement and advanced college placement tests, is feeling the impact of cancelled days and shortened classes.
"It's very hard when you don't know some of the information to begin with," she said.
"A lot of it is crucial. I am the type of person who enjoys teaching myself new things, but I would rather be taught it in class the correct way," added the 18-year-old senior who will be attending Ball State University in the fall.
In Alan Landes' Spanish class last week, about half the 26 students also face high-stakes advanced placement tests later this semester.
"Second semester especially is spent preparing them for that test, and the AP tests are all exceptionally hard so you really need to have as much class time as possible to get them prepared for that," Landes said.
"Any days that we get behind just makes it harder for them," he added. "You know one day behind is one thing, but when you get multiple days behind and then two-hour delays when you're cutting 20 minutes out of each class — it just all adds up."
Class member Conner Oleksy said he's preparing for an advanced placement test in statistics and facing the reality of going through chapters of information every couple of days now.
"There's two weeks of this semester that we've lost when we could have been working on things," Conner said.
In veteran math teacher Doug Holder's Algebra II class, the lament was much the same: a lot of topics to cover and not as much time to cover it.
"Today we're just battling to catch up on the number of days we've gotten behind," said Holder, a 40-year veteran teacher who remembers well the three weeks of class time lost during the Blizzard of '78.
On Wednesday, his students were grappling with the Quadratic Formula.
"What we would normally spend on this particular topic is three days, and we're going to cut it down to two," Holder said. "Hopefully we can get back into a routine. If things are routine, it's better for everybody, whether you're a top-notch student or the special needs student."
While students and their teachers struggle to find that routine again, school administrators throughout Madison County and across Indiana are working on plans to extend the school year and eliminate some scheduled holidays like President's Day, to make up the lost time.
Several county districts, including ACS, Frankton-Lapel and South Madison Schools have taken advantage of a waiver offered by Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz to trim the official number of school days this year to 178 from 180.
Frankton-Lapel Schools Superintendent Bobby Fields said the school year will be extended, but he has no plans to change the district's graduation date.
"We are not going to change graduation," Fields said. "I did that a few years ago and it did not work out too well. If we have to go to school for two weeks after graduation, than we're going to do that."
South Madison Schools Superintendent Joe Buck said plenty of flexibility was built into the 2013-2014 district calendar to accomodate the impact of weather. He said school will be in session on Presidents Day Feb. 17, and the scheduled two-week spring break in March will be shortened to one week.
"I feel fortunate that we have seven days built into our calender this year," to account for snow days, Buck said.
But there are still worries. Big ones.
January and February are two key months necessary to help prepare students for the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP) tests, said Highland Middle School Principal Kelly Durr.
All 1,505 students at the school are scheduled to take the first part of the test, which tests written and math computation skills, in March. The second multiple choice section of the test is administered online in May.
Durr said she was evaluating teacher instruction calendars to make sure students can meet the education standards that will be covered in the test, and for those students who need extra help, it will be available through study periods during the regular day and through after-school programs.
State education leaders may also intervene with some relief by extending the ISTEP testing window, said Daniel Altman, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education. He said the Indiana State Board of Education is expected to consider a proposal to do that this week.
Meanwhile, brace yourselves.
Winter is far from over and the prospect of more school cancellations and delayed openings is real.
According to the National Weather Service, there's a 70 percent chance of snow Tuesday and Wednesday in which "significant accumulations of snow are possible."
Like Stu Hirsch on Facebook and follow him @stuhirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.