by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Imagine the stress of taking college classes for a whole semester with no breaks. Mary Furlong experienced that herself and heard about it from many fellow students.
The pandemic caused Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota (SMU), where Furlong is a junior biology major and Student Senate Vice President of Academic Affairs, to cancel the normal fall breaks students are used to. For the spring semester, Furlong supported the university putting break days in place rather than long-weekend or week-long breaks. “I think that it’s so important for students who experience a lot of stress with schoolwork to have some time off where they can take time to rest or catch up on their studying,” Furlong said. “It’s just really important for mental health.”
The break days are one way that local universities and K-12 schools are approaching spring break this year, with some changing their past practices and others moving forward with typical breaks.
SMU and Winona State University (WSU) are implementing break days throughout the semester instead of a five-day spring break. The break days are scheduled in the middle of the week, rather than on a Monday or a Friday, to discourage students from traveling over a long weekend, university leaders stated. The break days are meant to give students a chance to take some time off and recharge, university leaders said.
“I think that what we hope they will take away is to really use it as kind of a wellness day, meaning, to spend the day doing something that will relax them, that will give them some rest and respite,” SMU General Counsel and University Secretary Ann Merchlewitz said.
WSU Vice President of Student Life and Development Denise McDowell agreed. “The goal is that you check out; that if you want to sleep in all day, if you decide you want to sit up and look at TV the night before because you want to catch up … it’s on you. So part of it was really trying to get people to de-stress,” she said. The break days also provide faculty and staff members with a chance to rest, McDowell added.
Break days happening in future semesters could be beneficial, Furlong said. “I think it’s a great idea that could be implemented after the pandemic, if it helps students and really makes a difference with where they’re at mentally and with stress levels,” Furlong said.
At the K-12 level, some local schools plan to have a five-day spring break from a Monday through a Friday as they usually have. Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS), Winona Area Catholic Schools (WACS) and Cotter Schools have scheduled a spring break from March 8 through 12.
WAPS leaders announced earlier this month that they plan for ninth through 12th graders at Winona Senior High School to be in distance learning from March 15 through 24, following spring break, to reduce the impact of possible COVID-19 surges as a result of families traveling over the break. WAPS Superintendent Annette Freiheit said at the WAPS Board’s February 18 meeting that school leaders may have to reconsider those plans, in light of state guidance released this week encouraging middle and high schools to implement hybrid or in-person learning.
At WACS, Principal Pat Bowlin said school leaders ask those who travel over the break to quarantine for 48 hours and monitor whether they develop any COVID-19 symptoms. Cotter Schools President Judith Schaefer urged families in a February 5 letter to seriously reconsider any travel plans they have from now until the school year ends in light of COVID-19 transmission rates locally and in the area being traveled to, as well as whether the travel could be postponed.
Meanwhile, some districts are continuing with their past practice of having the Friday before Easter off, as well as the Monday or Monday and Tuesday after Easter off, in place of a five-day spring break. Those districts include the Lewiston-Altura, St. Charles, Galesville-Ettrick-Trempealeau and Cochrane-Fountain City school districts.