Phasing out snow days

As winter continues to trudge along, schools across Michiana are trying to find creative ways to make up for lost classroom time. Dozens of schools cancelled classes Wednesday morning a due to heavy snow fall and treacherous roads. However, some of St. Joseph County’s biggest school corporations—Penn-Harris-Madison and South Bend Schools—decided to stay open.

The decision to delay, cancel or keep school open is a difficult one to make, especially when the weather changes quickly.

South Bend and PHM officials said they did not keep school open just for ISTEP testing, rather they believed the weather was not severe enough to warrant delaying or cancelling class.

Schools and districts that opted for another snow day will have to figure out how to makeup the school day, either by tacking on additional days to the end of the year, lengthening the school day itself, or going to school on Saturday.

Wednesday, Bethany Christian Schools implemented virtual learning days in lieu of an additional weather-related cancellation. With a 1:1 computer initiative already in place, administrators felt confident students were familiar enough with the Haiku online learning system and could successfully do a full day’s work from home.

Brent Reinhardt, a high school social sciences teacher at Bethany Christian said he enjoys being able to work from home and monitor his students work. From the comfort of Reinhardt’s own kitchen table he logged into the Haiku server and watched students post discussions in a chatroom and complete a number of geography and research assignments.

The decision to try virtual learning days was made weeks ago by administrators. According to Reinhardt, Bethany Christian’s vice principal informed teachers on Tuesday that they would be going forward with the at-home learning on Wednesday.

“When we talked with the students about it, some were excited about staying home and doing work from the recliner and being able to get snacks. Others really wanted to come to school because I think they were worried about being distracted,” said Reinhardt.

While some teachers weren’t as excited as others about virtual learning, Reinhardt said everyone was more than willing to try it out.

Reinhardt’s daughter Brooke is an eighth grade student at Bethany Christian Middle School. Brooke and Jiwoo, an exchange student, sat in Reinhardt’s living room working on their virtual learning work as Reinhardt monitored his own classes.

“It’s way different than I thought,” said Jiwoo, “I thought it was going to be better since we’re not actually going to school at a certain time.” Jiwoo added that it felt like they just had more homework and didn’t feel like a real school day.

Brooke thought virtual learning was easier than school and liked the fact that she could take breaks without worrying she couldn’t finish her work.

Teachers were asked to post the day’s assignments online by 10:00 a.m. with the goal that each assignment takes around 30 minutes to complete. Students are to complete their assignments by 11:59 p.m., however, if a student is unable to gain internet access officials said they may have another two days to complete the work.

Classes like physical education substituted a typical gym class for 15 minutes of shoveling snow, and music teachers asked students to record themselves practicing and submit it via email.

A spokeswoman for PHM said the district plans on making three school makeup days “E Learning” days. The exact curricula for each grade has not yet been determined, but officials hope to have the details hammered out soon.

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