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Snow Days Become Cyber Days at Padua

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From Matthew Albright’s article, “Snow days will be cyber days for some private schools,” for the News Journal, 11/19/14. Click here for original article.

As Delaware watches other states dig out from huge piles of snow, parents and educators are remembering last year’s hard winter and hoping the white stuff doesn’t cancel as many school days this year.In case it does, some private schools have set up a system for students to work from home in inclement weather, staying warm and safe without losing days.

“I think this is a way for us to keep kids on track academically while also allowing us to make the safest decision for our students,” said Cindy Mann, school leader of Padua Academy in Wilmington.

Here’s how the system will work at Padua: If the Diocese of Wilmington cancels classes, teachers would send emails to students by 9 a.m. with information about the assignments they would expect students to complete that day. Students would then do the work and submit it electronically.

Teachers would keep electronic “office hours” – the school is recommending from 1 to 3 p.m. – in which students can ask questions and seek help with their work.

The idea came about when individual teachers started preparing students to work from home last year as the snow days piled up.

“We just can’t let students miss as much time as they did last year,” Mann said. “We had to have Saturday classes to catch up. When a student has an [Advanced Placement] exam or something like that, it’s a real problem if they miss that much time.”

Every student at Padua has a laptop computer for use in class.

“They work this way in class all the time, so it’s not like this is something foreign for them,” Mann said.

Many parents say they’d like to see such a program implemented in their schools.

“If our school district offered schoolwork online in the event of inclement weather, I would love it,” said Samantha Welch, an Indian River School District parent from Georgetown. “I think it would make it so much easier to stay on track and not get terribly behind in class and homework. All schools should offer it, in my opinion.”

Kay Glass, a mom in the Cape Henlopen School District, said she’d be “thrilled” to have such an opportunity.

“Frankly, I’d love the work to be available online, period, for when students are home sick, so there isn’t a ton of makeup work to submit,” she said. “It also allows parents to be more involved with the students’ work.”

Creating a system like Padua’s would be a major hurdle for many districts because they do not have laptops for every student or serve students who might not have the Internet or computers at home.

The Indian River School District has made strides in trying to integrate technology into its schools. It is part of the BRINC Consortium (Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech and Colonial), a group of districts working together to use technology to personalize instruction for every student.

Though the district has dramatically increased computer access for kids in recent years, it still can’t give every student a computer to take home. Many low-income and rural students don’t have Internet access to make “cyber days” work.

“We cover 360 square miles of Sussex County, and there’s various degrees of Internet service across that area,” said David Maull, an Indian River spokesman. “Not every student will have the resources they need.”

Maull points out there’s an issue of scale – the district serves more than 9,000 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

In the Brandywine School District, also part of BRINC, some classes use technology to personalize each student’s lessons. But Superintendent Mark Holodick said it’s a much bigger task to bring that to every student’s home.

“We’re a diverse district and we have to recognize that not all students have access to online learning at home,” Holodick said.

Holodick points out that Brandywine teachers, like the rest of the state, are implementing tough new academic standards in preparation for a difficult new state exam. Asking them to prepare online lessons in case of snow would only add to their already-full plates.

Though traditional districts aren’t likely to be creating cyber days anytime soon, they are taking steps to make sure the pains of last winter are not repeated.

In Brandywine, students will have eight snow days built into the calendar. Should the district need to cancel more classes than that, it has already mapped out how extra time would be added to the year.

“What we learned from last year is that we need to provide peace of mind not only for families and students, but staff, when it comes to how these days are going to be made up,” Holodick said. “We want to make sure the plan is in place ahead of time and communicated clearly to our school communities.”

Five more days would be added to the end of the school year, if necessary. If there are more than 13 days, spring break would be shortened by up to four days.

If more than 17 snow days occur – “perish the thought!” Holodick wrote in a letter to parents – more time would be added to the school year or the school day would be extended.

Holodick emphasized that safety, not the number of makeup days, is the main factor in whether school leaders choose to cancel class.

“That has been, and it continues to be, our number-one priority,” he said.

Contact Matthew Albright at malbright@delawareonline.com, 324-2428 or on Twitter @TNJ_malbright.

 

Padua Academy 905 N. Broom Street
Wilmington, DE 19806
(302) 421-3739

Rooted in the Catholic faith, Padua Academy offers young women a transformational college preparatory education, challenging them to live Christ-centered lives of leadership and service.