Snow problem? Schools turn to e-learning

When winter weather gets bad and local roads become dangerous, many Indiana schools will close their doors for the day and use a makeup day — if one’s available — or extend the school year.

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. has created a new option to ensure students stay safe during inclement weather, but avoid extra school days that eat into summer vacation.

The state Department of Education has approved the district’s new eLearning Day snow day system, which would require students to complete certain learning objectives online beginning with the sixth snow day of the year.

The second week of students’ spring break vacation already has been designated as five built-in snow days.

Other school districts across the state that use at-home learning days often send packets home with students that seem more like busy work than an actual lesson, said Bill Jensen, BCSC director of secondary education.

However, because BCSC has a one-to-one student to technology ratio, the district felt it could implement an online learning system that would actively engage students in their studies, even from home, Jensen said.

Kindergarten students are assigned to an iPad, first-through-eighth graders are assigned to Chromebooks and high school students are assigned to laptops.

The district is building a community website that will have information about eLearning Days available for students and parents, and another website for BCSC staff and teachers, said Nick Williams, BCSC coordinator of instructional technology who led the effort to create the eLearning Day program.

Handouts also will be sent home with students to provide parents with more information about expectations for the virtual learning days. A hotline and email address also will be available for parents to ask questions.

On eLearning Days, each teacher will be required to post student learning objectives online by 9 a.m. Special accommodations for students on individualized education plans will be taken into account when creating learning objectives.

Attendance will be measured by teachers’ assessments of whether or not students effectively complete those learning objectives, Williams said.

Throughout the day, the state mandates that teachers offer office hours from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to answer any questions students might have from home.

If severe weather is in the forecast, students will have the option to take their school-issued devices home in case an eLearning Day becomes necessary, Williams said.

If families are unable to connect to the Internet or do not have a digital device at home, three schools — Columbus East, Northside Middle and Southside Elementary — will be opened for student use. Those schools also will have lunch and nursing services available to students, Williams said.

Parents will be required to provide transportation for their students on eLearning Days and can take their child to any of the three open schools.

A list of free Wi-Fi hot spots around Columbus will be provided, Williams said.

However, if families are completely unable to leave their homes, parents are encouraged to contact teachers directly to develop alternative options for completing the learning objectives, Jensen said.

Parents react

Amie Shoemaker, parent of a fifth-grade student at Schmitt Elementary School, said teachers in Ohio — where her daughter attended school previously — would send home “blizzard bags” filled with the day’s assignments to be completed on a snow day.Although she concedes that completing worksheets is not as beneficial as actually being in the classroom, Shoemaker also said snow make-up days at the end of the school year sometimes consist of parties and movies rather than school work.Allowing students to complete their work at home, however, provides some level of academic stimulation, she said.

“I actually feel (the at-home learning days) are a more efficient way of making up the days over and beyond the already built-in calamity days,” Shoemaker said.

Although BCSC’s system would be technology-based, unlike the “blizzard bags” carried home by Shoemaker’s daughter, some local parents think the concept will work.

Because the district has provided its students with devices they can take home, Raquel Moss — whose daughter is a junior at Columbus North High School — said she sees no reason for students to make up days at the end of the year when they could do their work from home instead.

However, Susan Chandler remembers the stress she felt when trying to find a baby sitter for her children when they were too young to stay home alone during snow days.

“It is not easy for income-challenged parents,” Chandler said. “Their first thought is to find a sitter fast enough so you’re not late for work or lose your job. Even if you have a plan, it does fall through sometimes.”

While the concept could work for high school students, elementary school students might not have the supervision they need at home to effectively complete their work, she said.

Although she no longer has school-age children, some of Chandler’s grandchildren are enrolled in BCSC schools.

District officials acknowledge that there will be difficulties the first time an eLearning Day is used, and that face-to-face instruction is always the best way to learn, Jensen said.

However, the eLearning Day system is just a tool in the toolbox to help students complete their work in a timely and effective manner, he said.

Extending the school year often presents logistical issues, such as scheduling conflicts with BCSC’s three graduation ceremonies or early summer camps, superintendent John Quick said.

The eLearning program, however, can help prevent those conflicts and allow students, teachers and families alike to enjoy their summer vacations as planned.

What parents need to know

Where to find more information: Information about eLearning Days is available at bcscelearningday.weebly.com, which provides background information on the eLearning Day program. Additional questions can be directed to the eLearning hotline at 812-418-0252.

Where to get Internet access: If your student does not have a device or Internet access at home on an eLearning Day, three schools will be open:

  • Columbus East High School, 230 S. Marr Road, Columbus
  • Northside Middle School, 1400 27th St., Columbus
  • Southside Elementary School, 1320 West County Road 200S, Columbus

A map of free Wi-Fi hot spots will also be added to the eLearning website in the future.

What time do students need to be “at school”: Online learning objectives will be posted starting by 9 a.m. Attendance will be taken based on students’ completion of those objectives

In case of bad weather: If the weather is too bad to leave your home to go to one of the open schools or public Wi-Fi spots, you should contact your child’s teacher directly to develop an alternate learning plan.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.