SNOW DAYS: Technology and the success of at-home learning have rendered school cancellations obsolete

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HANCOCK COUNTY — The words “snow day” have instilled a sense of joy and celebration for school-age children for generations.

Yet the excitement of turning a snow day into an excuse to sleep in, go sledding or hang out with friends may be a thing of the past.

The COVID pandemic has made virtual learning and e-learning commonplace, and educators are now using those concepts to assure that students still attend class — even on days when winter weather makes getting to school tricky or impossible.

Each of Hancock County’s four school districts have opted to do away with “snow days” in favor of virtual learning and e-learning days, counting toward the 180 instructional days required by the state each school year.

With the pandemic dragging on for nearly two years now, many students have grown up without even knowing what a “snow day” is, said Adam Barton, principal at Eastern Hancock High School and Eastern Hancock Middle School.

“Sadly they don’t know what they’re missing, so they don’t think anything of it,” he said, but educators like himself and older students certainly do.

“Even as a teacher you’d get that feeling at 10 o’clock at night wondering, ‘Am I getting tomorrow off?’ It was exciting,” he recalled with a laugh.

Sherri Foster, a counselor at Greenfield-Central High School, fondly remembers sitting in front of her family’s television as a kid whenever inclement weather hit, watching the list of school closings scroll across the bottom of the screen.

“We had to wait for our school to roll across the bottom of the screen, then go back to bed,” she remembered fondly. “With social media and automatic calls, we don’t really do that anymore.”

With a fifth-grader and eighth-grader of her own, Foster knows how much children have loved snow days in years past, but this is a different era, she said.

“It’s nice to have the option to continue learning when the kids aren’t in school, rather than tacking the missed days on to the end of the year. Summer is short enough already,” said the counselor, whose husband teaches English at the high school.

Even with snow days turned into virtual or e-learning days, Barton said there’s still plenty of time for students to goof off. Plus, they can attend class in their pajamas.

Eastern Hancock Schools start virtual learning days on a two-hour delay, with students attending four classes for 60 minutes each, rather than 90 minutes each, including an extended lunch.

“It’s not nearly as stressful of a day as a full schedule,” Barton said.

Plus, the shortened day and extended lunch means students still have time to relax a bit and hopefully enjoy the snow.

Barton agrees that the upside is that virtual learning days don’t need to be made up, which in the past could have meant taking a day away from Spring Break or tacking the number of days missed onto the end of the school year.

Whether caused by inclement weather or not, how virtual or e-learning days are managed varies by each school district.

E-learning, or electronic learning, refers to when students can join and complete assignments at their own pace. Virtual learning is more interactive, with teachers interacting with students online in real time.

At Greenfield-Central schools, students are given dedicated times throughout the day to interact virtually with their teachers and classes.

A fourth-grade Greenfield-Central Intermediate School student, for example, would meet with the whole class at 9 a.m., followed by small groups, a break for lunch, and another whole class meetup in the afternoon, in addition to arts time. Students are expected to use Google Classroom and other online learning platforms to follow their daily schedule of classes.

At Southern Hancock schools, a single inclement weather day would likely consist of assignments for students to complete on their own time. Teachers may make themselves available via Google Meet or check in with students throughout the day as needed.

Teachers are required to hold office hours on e-learning days in the morning and evening. During these times, each teacher will be immediately available to answer questions via email. Teachers may be available at other times throughout the day at their own discretion. The corporation also offers phone numbers for technical support for parents and students.

When Mt. Vernon schools have e-learning days due to inclement weather, teachers will share assignments with students by a designated time in the morning. Each teacher will give instruction and take virtual attendance, then students can work on assignments at their own pace throughout the day. Teachers will also provide virtual office hours, stating when they will be available to support students that day.

The corporation provides technical support for teachers and students 24 hours a day.

Eastern Hancock schools consider a number of factors when determining how to hold classes when inclement weather brings on virtual learning. Those factors include the age of students and course content.

In some cases, students will log in and receive live class instructions from teachers at certain times of the day. Other students may be given assignments to complete at their own pace throughout the course of the day.

Attending class through virtual learning may be hard for many adults to fathom, especially on a “snow day,” which was long considered a rite of passage.

Barton said it’s just a way of life for today’s students, however, who have come to expect the unexpected over the past two years.

“We’ve changed the schedule on them so much over the last two years, with the different things we’ve tried working around COVID, that they just go with the flow and do what’s asked of them. It’s certainly taught them to be resilient,” he said.

School districts’ weather policies

Hancock County’s four school districts are handling inclement-weather days in a variety of ways, now that virtual learning has become prevalent. Here’s a glance at what each district’s general policies are; policies may vary based on grade level and teachers.

Greenfield-Central

Greenfield-Central will most likely consider a weather-related closure a “school day” to count as one of the district’s 180 instructional days for the year. Students have dedicated times to interact virtually with their teachers and classes, using Google Classroom and other various online learning platforms.

Southern Hancock

In general, Southern Hancock also implements an e-learning day when school is canceled due to inclement weather. Students are typically given assignments to complete on their own time, with teachers making themselves available via Google Meet or checking in with students throughout the day.

Teachers also hold office hours on e-learning days in the morning and evening, during which times they will be available to answer questions via email. Teachers may be available at other times throughout the day at their own discretion. The corporation also offers technical support.

Eastern Hancock

Eastern Hancock engages in e-learning during inclement weather and decides how to hold classes based on several factors, including the age of students and course content. In some cases, students will log in and receive live class instructions from teachers throughout the day, while others may be given assignments to complete at their own pace.

Mt. Vernon

Mt. Vernon schools will have e-learning days when school is canceled due to inclement weather. Teachers will share assignments by a designated time in the morning, give instruction and take virtual attendance. Students can work on assignments at their own pace during the day. Teachers will also provide virtual office hours stating when they will be available that day. The corporation provides technical support 24 hours a day.

Where is the snow?

Hancock County has enjoyed — or endured, depending on your perspective — one of the least-snowiest winters in recent history. As of Thursday, Jan. 20, only 0.8 inches of snow had fallen so far this season, according to the National Weather Service. Normal accumulation by now is 12.9 inches. A lot of winter is still to come, but the last time snowfall was this minimal was in 2001-02, when only 0.7 inches had fallen by January, according to the weather service

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