Snow days no match for e-classes

HANCOCK COUNTY — As local schools gear up for the possibility of snow days this winter, two local districts are eyeing options that would allow teachers to conduct class even when bad weather keeps students home.

Southern Hancock School Corp. was the first district in the county to make use of the Indiana Department of Education’s virtual-learning program, in which students log on to school-issued computers from home to complete assignments during days classes are canceled.

Now the school district is prepared to repeat the program this school year, and Mt. Vernon School Corp. is hoping to take advantage of the opportunity, too.

Officials from Southern Hancock say the program went well last year, and the district used the virtual lesson plans during all three days of its weather-related cancellations, sparing staff and students from making up that time later in the year.

Shane Robbins, superintendent of Mt. Vernon schools, which recently rolled out an initiative that equipped all students with computers, said he’s hopeful the program will ensure students and teachers don’t miss a beat during closures.

When the district is forced to cancel classes, Robbins said, it can temporarily halt lesson plans, making it difficult for teachers to keep up with the curriculum, especially when a bout of bad weather keeps students out of school for days.

If educators can teach lessons remotely, they’ll be able to carry on as planned, Robbins said.

“If we can keep some continuity in our lessons and make sure students are continuing to build skills during that time, our teachers won’t be backed up when classes resume,” Robbins said.

And assignments given to students wouldn’t be busy work. The terms of the program require educators to deliver lessons that expand on material they’re already teaching, Robbins said.

That means teachers would have to quickly adapt lessons to fit into an online teaching plan once they learn of the closure, he added.

Robbins doesn’t predict that will be an issue for teachers. It’s similar to when teachers call in sick and have to make substitute plans, he said.

The virtual lessons will be most effective when used intermittently, and the district would not be able to use them for three or more consecutive snow days, the program stipulates.

Rhonda Peterson, Southern Hancock curriculum director, said several teachers collaborated with one another last year to determine which lessons were most effective for the program and are tweaking their plans to improve the program should it need to be implemented this year.

At the middle and high school level, some teachers discovered their lessons were too long, Peterson said.

“We’re honing in on a few changes to make here and there, but as a whole, it was received really well,” she said.

Parents of Southern Hancock students were surveyed after the virtual learning days to gauge what improvements the school could to make, Peterson said. But as a whole, there were few complaints, she said.

Andrea Kirklin, mother of a junior and eighth-grader at Southern Hancock schools, said she was satisfied with the program.

“It seemed like they were really engaged in the work, and they were able to do it all at their leisure without any problems,” Kirklin said.

If all goes according to plan, both Mt. Vernon and Southern Hancock will receive approval for the program in coming weeks.

Administrators from both Eastern Hancock and Greenfield-Central school districts said they aren’t eligible to apply for the program because the districts don’t provide take-home computers for all students.

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or