New SnowSchool Strategies for a Changing World

A girl in a pink parka holds her arms outstretched in a winter setting.

Like a lot of things, the pandemic brought an unusual winter for SnowSchool. As kids across the country romped through snow-covered forests, dug snowpits, climbed inside igloos, and calculated snow-water equivalent measurements, the season was abruptly cut short, seemingly mid-snowshoe-stride. In mid-March 2020, we moved quickly to create an online SnowSchool curriculum for homeschooling parents. 

SnowSchool ended differently last season, but we still count it as a success. Based on our 2019-20 survey of SnowSchool sites, we engaged more than 32,500 participants across 70 active sites. More than half of the students who participated are underserved, and 66 percent said it was their first time on snowshoes. This success was made possible by the thousands of outdoor educators, parents, chaperones, K-12 teachers, and volunteer educators who prioritized getting these kids outside last winter. Of course, the pandemic still took its toll and when schools sent kids home and canceled field trips, we saw participation drop by 20 percent. On the brighter side, before the pandemic, SnowSchool engaged thousands of students in multiple states in our citizen snow science collaboration with the NASA SnowEx campaign. 

Unless you’ve been living in an ice-cave, you’ve likely read a few headlines about the many issues surrounding schools reopening during the pandemic. To be clear, we believe the safety of students, teachers, and communities should be the top priority. At the same time, school closures present challenges for SnowSchool and many other outdoor science education programs. It is clearly difficult to have field trips if you don’t have in-person school. Still, the value of time outside and local nature is at an all time high. So while community buildings, event centers, and even busy trailheads are worthy of avoiding, we are still able to find refuge in the tiny doses of nature happening right outside our windows and doors. This is and always has been the essence of SnowSchool—connecting kids and communities to their local winter wildlands.  SnowSchool is well positioned to help kids and families navigate what is likely to be a very challenging winter. 

What does this winter (2020-21) look like?

Looking to this coming winter, we are actively developing a robust SnowSchool at Home curriculum (look for our official release of this in early December 2020).  For grades K-12, we are creating specific hands-on winter activities and snow science experiments that students can do every week of the winter, right out their back door!

We’re also hosting our ongoing National Snowpack Prediction Challenge! This is our annual snow science challenge that tests your knowledge of your local mountain snowpack and the best part is that any and everyone can now participate no matter where you are! Enter your predictions today!

And every year we add new SnowSchool site to our growing network of over 70 winter education programs. This season we are welcoming new SnowSchool sites at Stevens County Conservation District, Keystone Science School, Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center, Pinecrest Expedition Academy and Catamount Outdoor Learning Center! All new and existing SnowSchool sites are modifying their approaches this year and working hard in communities across the snow-belt to safely bring the magic of being outside in the winter to kids’ backyards, schoolyards, public lands and virtual classrooms.  To kick things off we’re hosting a virtual National SnowSchool Pre-Season Conference on November 19th (email Kerry McClay for more information) for our educators.  Working with our local partners, we’ll be bringing the SnowSchool experience to a snowdrift near you!

With your support we aspire to continue our efforts to sustain the number of SnowSchool participants nationally and enhance the overall experience for every student this year and for years to come!  

Again, thank you! Your support makes SnowSchool possible.