Students at Woodland School in rural Streator stayed home on Monday due to the weather, but that doesn’t mean the students froze their brains for the day.
The school district had its first “Digital Learning” or “eLearning” day where students continued their courses without having to step out of the front door by using phones, tablets and computers at home.
Superintendent Ryan McGuckin said the district swapped its Teachers Institute Day from the end of May to last Friday so the district could spend six hours devising five days worth of work for students.
“It wasn’t my intent to do this now, I thought we would wait until next year but this week scared me,” McGuckin said of the incoming snow and low temperatures. “It didn’t look good for education.”
He expects the district won’t use all five of the planned Digital Learning days, but wanted to have a set curriculum in mind so the teachers could plan out a number of lessons students could complete at home.
Students and their parents were able to access Google Drive accounts and read a lesson plan for the day to be completed from home. Subjects including English, math, social, science, music and physical education as would usually be completed at school.
Some examples including singing along to a video online for music, doing basic stretches for physical education and reading to siblings or the family pet for reading. The children also were asked to do a chore for a parent or another act of kindness for character education.
The district does have one-to-one education when it comes to technology, but their devices remained at the school during the digital day.
“I’m just basing this on everyone has a phone,” McGuckin said. “You can use your phone and look it up. Between the phone, iPads, personal devices. We do have one-to-one in school, but we don’t let them take them home.”
McGuckin said some families have come forward noting they don’t have an internet connection at home, but McGuckin said those students can still do the assignments that require the internet upon their return to school.
“No one is going to be hurt, they’re allowed to get it done when they come in,” McGuckin said.
The ability to hold school from a student’s home is a new one that has come through the introduction of a new evidence-based funding formula for school districts, which opens up the definition of a traditional instructional day to no longer have a minimum number of hours nor does it require to be classroom-based.
The program is innovative in that few schools have begun having classes from home in the area. McGuckin said schools in the area as well as those further away have been reaching out for more information to introduce similar digital days to their curriculum, so they can avoid using snow days and extending their schedules.
Streator High School Superintendent Matt Seaton said the district is looking at something similar for the next school year.
The district has access for every student with Chromebooks but still has a large number of students without internet access at home or wherever they would be taking the classes.
“We’ve had that conversation internally and we feel we’re very capable of doing it, but we’re just not quite there yet to roll it out,” Seaton said before suggesting it could be seen in 2019.
“We’re very interested and it’ll be good for us to see some districts like Woodland do it and maybe learn something in the process and learn from what they do well and maybe mimic that for our program,” he added.
Ottawa Elementary School District Superintendent Cleve Threadgill said he also was familiar with the concept but noted it’d be a hard implementation at this point for the district, which is currently working on getting one to one access with iPads for students.
The district is the largest in the county.
“I’ve heard of it in places where the district is a little smaller or if it’s a wealthier district. It’s probably a thing of the future and sounds great but the scale of it is a little different for us with 2,000 students,” Threadgill said.
For now, McGuckin said the response has been positive from families who said the classes have taken their students a majority of the morning and kept their brains active on a day when they usually would not be working on assignments.
McGuckin said he’s hopeful school will be in session on Tuesday, but should the cold temperatures predicted for Wednesday come true, the district has other Digital Learning days planned.
As for whether or not the district might never have an official snow day again, time will tell.
“I think might is the keyword. We have the right to say no more. Right now the community is buying in and the teachers are buying in and we’re looking at the good and bad,” McGuckin said. “I think saying no snow days is a reach right now, but this is a possibility moving through this week.”