Behind the Scenes: Snow Days On Campus

Even the smallest chance of snow leads students to discuss the possibilities of a snow day. Childhood dreams of sledding, hot chocolate, and sleeping in extend into high school, and exchanges can be heard in the halls between friends about snow day plans. Sometimes, the decision is made early, allowing students to fully enjoy the snow and not have to immediately worry about homework. However, occasionally the decision is not made until late at night or possibly even early the next morning, prolonging student excitement. After the latest snow days at Collegiate, there was notable discussion about how late the decision was made to have Tuesday, January 10, off.

According to Head of School Steve Hickman, “We hopefully make the decision the night before.” This is ideal, giving parents the time to make the necessary childcare plans and allowing students to sleep in the next day. Director of Campus Safety and Security Jason Stone is always tracking the weather, for snow and for other potentially hazardous conditions, such as thunderstorms. With thorough analysis, the weather conditions for the next day can often be predicted. Sometimes, though, the decision could rest on whether more precipitation falls during the night, overnight and early morning temperatures, and morning road conditions.

A combination of factors determine whether school will be open or closed; campus carpool lanes, sidewalks, and parking lots have to be clear, and the roads in greater Richmond must be suitable for driving. Hickman pointed out that Collegiate students comprise an estimated fifty zip codes around Virginia, so if school were closed until everyone’s roads were perfectly clear, school may as well stay closed for weeks. That being said, Hickman stressed that “safety is by far the most important factor.” Although he makes the decision based on what he thinks is safe for the majority of students, if parents are uncomfortable with road conditions near their house, they should make a personal decision regarding school attendance.

When safety cannot be determined the night before school, Stone, Head of Middle School Charlie Blair, and Hickman wake up around 4:00 am to make a final decision. Blair lives near Collegiate, so it is usually easy for him to quickly get to school, and Stone is in touch with the security guards who are constantly on-campus. Hickman uses their advice, but has the final say in the decision, as it is a part of his role as Head of School. Together, they will then determine the safety of roads and campus.

Seeing what other schools decide regarding the potential snow day can also prove advantageous. Hickman stated that “other schools’ decisions will never drive us, but it is helpful to see where they stand.” Hickman usually talks directly with St. Catherine’s and St. Christopher’s administrators because their decision is often similar to ours. Sometimes public school decisions can also be useful because they understand the broad spectrum conditions of the county or city. However, they also use buses, so road conditions have to be much clearer for them to return to school than for Collegiate and other schools which do not use buses.

Hickman also has experience making snow day decisions from his time as Head of School at Episcopal Collegiate School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Comparing Richmond and Arkansas, he says the snow day process and amount of days off are not that different, other than the fact that Little Rock tends to get more ice, whereas Richmond gets more snow. He also stated that Little Rock is quite hilly, making driving more difficult when roads are slippery.

While Hickman would never compromise students’ safety just to get students to school, students should be sure not to wish for too many snow days. Despite having a cushion of extra school days, if too many snow days or other unexpected weather scenarios occurred, school days could, in theory, have to be made up.

Finally, much of campus’s safety is owed to Collegiate’s wonderful Physical Plant team, who work endlessly to keep the roads and sidewalks clear. Grounds Supervisor Allison Moyer says that on typical snow days, all the Physical Plant supervisors and grounds crew, comprising a group of about fourteen to fifteen people, arrive around 8:00 am and do not leave until around 4:00-5:00 pm. Using two golf cart plows, one truck plow, two tractors, and many shovels, they begin to clear campus. Green Side Up, a landscaping company, plows the roadways through campus, and another company plows the football field if it is being used for sports at that time of year. Aside from that, Moyer’s team begins using the plows and tractors to clear major paths, before going back and shoveling smaller sidewalks, steps, and door entrances.

While Robins Campus does not get completely cleared unless spring sports have started or the campus is being used for an event, they do plow the roads so they do not ice over. With the long hours and cold weather, the job sounds daunting. Even more, Moyer stated that “the biggest thing that kills us is when people walk on campus before we have shoveled, because people still come to school when it’s closed. They pack it down into thick ice, and it is much harder to shovel.” She further explained that they then must use the shovels to break up the ice and snow before they can actually remove it.

As difficult as this job is, tremendous thanks is owed to the whole team for that day, and all the other days they invest their time. As Hickman, who is often out during the clearing process encouraging the crew to warm up and take breaks, put it, “Our crew did an incredible job.”

Featured image credit: David Merrigan via Wikimedia Commons.

About the author

Frances is a junior at Collegiate School.