By Tyler Kirker
Prior to the nearly two-year-long COVID-19 pandemic, a snow day meant being able to skip school or work due to the whim of the weather. Nowadays, with remote work and learning as normalized as in-person activities, snow days instead mean that college classes still happen, albeit virtually.
What did the winters of childhood look like? For many, it meant sitting in front of their phones praying for a call from the school and watching the weather reports all evening, hoping for a snow day. Some even believed that flushing ice cubes down the toilet would do the trick!
“When my brother and I were in elementary school … we would play in the snow, [doing things like] having snowball fights and making snowmen,” Eddie Johnson, sophomore social work major, said. “The snow gets less and less fun as you get older [though], so later on, snow days just become great days to relax and sleep in.”
In March 2020, when COVID-19 forced the United States into a nationwide lockdown, it was originally thought that the event would merely extend university students’ spring break by two to four weeks. What happened instead, however, ended up changing the accessibility of school forever. Some students already anticipated online schooling to act as a long-term alternative to in-person classes.
“I saw the benefits for people who could manage their time well and were motivated,” Juliea Dworning, sophomore biology major, said. “Plus, remote learning had already been around [before the pandemic].”
The ongoing use of online learning platforms in the event of weather-related emergencies has proven controversial. Students at Malone have mixed feelings about adapting to online studies on random winter days. In addition, several students voice a preference for in-person classes.
“Just because we can go online doesn’t mean we should — especially with [things like] labs,” Dworning said. “As a STEM major, it’s hard to do those virtually, so they just become stressful busy work that doesn’t help me learn.”
“[However, Zoom] is just a technology platform. We’re choosing to implement it,” Dworning said.
“If a “post-COVID snow day” is just a day of online instruction due to snow, then we cannot call them true snow days,” Johnson said.
Malone’s faculty can see a clear difference due to the implementation of Zoom “snow days” as well.
“I think remote learning can be a wonderful option to connect with students on snow days and continue to cover material or stay on schedule,” Lana Sugarman, adjunct professor of communication arts and director-in-residence of theatre, said. “That being said, I do love a cozy snow day that allows for rest and catch-up for both students and teachers.”
Despite seeing the benefits, the student body and faculty alike are struggling with the idea of never having a “true snow day” again.
“There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction,” Johnson said. “God gave us the gift of community, and we are even told in scripture to not neglect assembling.”
“I need the accountability to pay better attention [in class],” Dworning said.
“Because so much of what I teach is theatre or speech-related, I almost always prefer in-person learning,” Sugarman said. “My teaching style is also very dynamic and translates more effectively in a live classroom. The energy between [the teachers and students] is exciting and unique.”
Regardless of the change in how snow days at Malone occur, when snow comes down, the service and grounds division of the Malone Physical Plant comes out. The employees and student workers of this division work tirelessly to ensure that the campus grounds are cleared for student and faculty use, whether in-person classes are canceled or not.
“[On a weekday], we would work early on the academic buildings first so [they] can get ready for classes to be attended,” Russell Thorn, head of service and grounds, said. “Then we would get to work on clearing the roadways and sidewalks.”
The service and grounds division ensures that students have the safest experience during their time at Malone in a multitude of ways. This includes speaking to Dr. Greg Miller, Malone’s current provost, whenever the conditions look questionable for traversing campus. It is ultimately because of them that on some snowy days students are able to attend class in-person.
“I give [Miller] my opinion of what we’re able to get done,” Thorn said. “[Once] I called him and told him that the campus was completely covered with ice, but we were getting enough salt and ice-melt down that it would be safe to travel [on campus].”
“[Other times I know] we just couldn’t keep up with the snow as it accumulated,” Thorn said. “So it was better to have classes remote and not have to deal with all the traffic with commuters coming on campus and students having to go from one class to another.”
Thorn and the service and grounds division do an immense amount of work for the students and faculty so that going remote due to snowfall can be avoided if it is possible, even with how much it has snowed in Canton in the past two months.
“This has been one of our heaviest snow and ice seasons in many, many years,” Thorn said. “I’ve been here 41 years … and this compares to some of the storms we had back in the ‘80s. Back then, we had three times as many student workers, and the same five full-time guys [working here today].”
So while students and faculty struggle with losing old-fashioned snow days to using revolutionary online learning, the service and grounds division is working hard to help keep the snow from putting students behind screens.
If you have a request for the service and grounds division to help fulfill a groundskeeping need on campus, be sure to call the physical plant at (330) 471-8258.
Spring is just around the corner, meaning the weather will be warming up and the ground will turn green again. In the meantime, enjoy the snow and stay safe when walking or driving through ice!