The most pointless school day ever…

7 minute read

February 17, 2024, 8:03 PM

This year marks thirty years since the most pointless day of my entire school career.  It was the only day that I attended where, if I were to do it all over again, I am 100% certain that I would have skipped it.  That was the day that Augusta County decided to have a snow make-up day on a Saturday.  Yes, you read that right: they had school on a Saturday.

I suppose that the lead-up to this made enough sense, because in Augusta County, the winter of 1994 was a very snowy one.  School was cancelled for a total of 16 days over the course of that winter for various weather events, including one instance where we were out for the entire week.  The thing about Augusta County, though, is that the schools use one calendar across the entire county, but being such a large county (only Pittsylvania is larger), the conditions end up being very different in various parts of the county.  So if road conditions would be too treacherous for students in the more rural western part of the county to go to school, they would call a snow day.  Thus, students in the more urbanized eastern part of the county (where I lived) would also get the day off, but our roads, being more heavily traveled, would typically be fine.  So with 16 snow days, three were built into the calendar, i.e. they made the school year 183 days long, assuming that we would have at least three snow days, i.e. those snow days were essentially freebies because the calendar already accounted for them.  That in itself was a first for Augusta County, as the previous year had no built-in snow days at all, therefore all of the snow days that we had that year had to be made up.  For a region that is north enough to get a lot of snow but south enough to where people still freak out over it, it’s surprising that they didn’t build in snow days before 1993, especially considering that the previous year had 14 snow days (why do I still remember this?).  So accounting for the three built-in days, that meant that we had to make up 13 days.

The way that Augusta County allocated make-up days was something that I disagreed with.  They generally preferred to use existing time off within the year for make-up days before extending the year out into June.  While they would add some days at the end of the year before some holidays, they only were in the make-up day plan after one or two other school holidays, conference days, teacher workdays, etc. had already been taken away.  So having 16 snow days, we were going to school five days a week from the last snow event in March all the way to June 17, with no breaks of any kind, as every single teacher workday, parent-teacher conference day, and long holiday weekend had been commandeered for instruction.  I would have preferred to just tack every single make-up day onto the end of the year in June and leave the breaks intact, because I felt like those off days had value because they prevented burnout all around (and trust me, the burnout was heavy that year, and was exacerbated by jackoffs like Frank Wade, who were more than happy to remind us that we had our Memorial Day holiday back in January).  And really, with the schools’ being out for more than two months in the summer already, it’s not like anyone would really notice an extra week.  If they had extended it out to June 24 or beyond, I doubt anyone would have cared much, except maybe those families who planned big vacations immediately after school let out (and they should know that the end date for the school year is really not set in stone until spring).

The problem in 1994 was that with 16 snow days, they had completely exhausted their list of make-up days, though I did laugh when they had scheduled a make-up day for late January, replacing a teacher in-service day, only for it to became a snow day itself (serves them right).  So with their list exhausted and every holiday or other off-day gone, they had to do some impromptu planning.  They tacked some days onto the end of the year, but in order to end the school year on a Friday, they had to place one more day somewhere else in space that they did not have.  So they picked a Saturday in April and made it a school day.  As if it wasn’t bad enough that we lost all of our holidays and other off-days, they also claimed a weekend day.  And to add insult to injury, we were given less than a week’s notice about it.  They announced the Saturday make-up day the Monday before, telling us that there would be school on Saturday of that same week.  Way to screw up everyone’s weekend plans with the short notice.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of parents decided almost immediately not to send their kids to school that day, and the schools had to account for a much higher absentee rate than usual.  The whole thing was really ridiculous, and kind of shameful at the same time.  I remember what the administration did as an attempt to incentivize attendance on Saturday: the homeroom with the highest attendance would get a pizza party (always a pizza party).  I found two issues with this.  First, it rewarded merely showing up, rather than anything of actual substance.  Conceivably, one could show up, get marked as present for the day, and then get picked up by a parent after 30 minutes and have that count for purposes of the incentive, because you showed up, even though you didn’t stick around.  Also, the problem with the way that they structured the incentive was that it only rewarded one homeroom, and not everyone who showed up on that most useless of school days.  My parents made me go, so I wanted a piece of that, even if my fellow classmates decided to blow it off.  Additionally, since the pizza party was held on a different day than the Saturday make-up day, it meant that people who skipped got the reward as well, even though they didn’t earn it themselves.  In other words, they were rewarding people who didn’t put in the effort themselves.  Additionally, let’s discuss it for what it really was: a bribe for showing up, and not a good one, either.  Most people got the short end of that stick.  If they wanted to incentivize attendance, they should have done something that day for the students who showed up, i.e. have some kind of reward time at the end of the day for all students who were present.  That way, everyone who put in the effort of coming to school on a weekend got something for it.  As it was, the homeroom with the highest attendance was announced over the loudspeaker at the end of the day, and those kids, along with their freeloading absentee classmates, got the pizza.  The rest of us got jack squat.  I was mentally prepared for this, though, because when the incentive was announced, I mentally wrote it off immediately.  The way that I figured, there were 36 homerooms at Stuarts Draft Middle School at that time, and I had no reason to think that the kids in my particular homeroom would show up in enough numbers to capture the pizza party.  So no sense considering it as a possibility or otherwise worrying about it, because the odds that I would get it were just under 3%, and it involved factors that were entirely outside of my own control.

The day itself, meanwhile, was a complete waste of everyone’s time.  The people who opted to schedule this day clearly forgot that you have to have a certain number of students in attendance in order to teach, i.e. you need a quorum in order to actually conduct any new business.  If you have a class of twenty and only ten of them show up, you’re only making things harder for yourself if you try to teach new material, because you’re only teaching it to half of the class, and the other half will need to be caught back up on what you taught while they were gone.  It’s one thing if only one or two kids are missing, but when you have double digit percentages of your kids missing, it’s harder to justify it.  Better to hold off on teaching any new material on the low-attendance day and wait until the next day when there is more normal attendance, unless you are a masochist and enjoy teaching the same thing twice.  The teachers knew that, and as such, we just went from movie to movie to movie all day.  All four core academic classes were spent together as a team watching a single movie, which was some historical fiction that was a couple of decades old at that point and boring as hell.  Exploratory was a computer class, and we just played games on the little Apple IIGS machines the entire period.  During our extended learning class, we watched an episode of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?.  I didn’t mind watching a game show compared to that awful movie that we were forced to watch earlier, but it was still a complete waste of time.

For what it’s worth, the same idea holds when a large amount of students are away for some event such as a field trip, or when attendance is lower due to a senior skip day or the like.  Don’t even try to teach something new, because you don’t have a quorum, and you will just have to do it all over again anyway, so wait a day and do it when you have enough people so that you’re not catching half the class up because you gave a lesson that most people were not there to receive.

The only class that actually taught anything was health class, because the teacher in that period, in some feeble attempt to encourage attendance, stated that he was teaching a full lesson on Saturday, on principle, if nothing else.  In other words, it was a school day, and he was doing school, so you’d best show up.  However, considering that it was health class, which was the instructional component of the Phys Ed program, it really didn’t matter much, because the class was graded on attitude and effort, and not by any concrete metrics.  All the same, I resented having one class that was actually working when the rest of the day was a big seven-hour holding period on what should have been a day off to begin with.

I am pretty sure that the district quickly recognized their folly, after seeing the very low attendance numbers roll in.  After all, our neighbors down the street explicitly blew off that Saturday school day, as did most families.  If we were to do it again, knowing what a waste of time that day was, we would have probably done the same, missing that Saturday school day, and also taking a few mental health days here and there during that long slog at the end of the year with no breaks in order to keep sane and prevent burnout.  Mental health days are important, but in the nineties, I feel like that wasn’t a recognized thing like it is now, and my parents certainly wouldn’t have gone for it.  In the thirty years since, Augusta County has never had school on a Saturday ever again.  Even in years with worse snow than 1993-1994, such as with the blizzards of 1996, 2010, and 2016, they made up missed days other ways, including taking away a floating teacher workday that occurred between semesters that they had pledged earlier that they would not take, but the weekends were never considered.

I suppose that it’s a good lesson for everybody who has to plan things: you can dictate things all you want, but there are limits to how much people are going to follow you, even when it comes to compulsory education.  Sure, you can declare Saturday a school day, but if very few people are going to show up for it, don’t even bother.  You may have technically made the day up, which will satisfy reporting requirements, but very little actual education will occur, so the day is a big, pointless waste of time and money.