The "snow days" piled up at a brisk pace last winter. Three days in a row one week in January as the temperature plummeted to 30 below. A total of eight cancellations for the 2018-2019 school year, a number far exceeding the district’s plan. The school year was extended, impacting students, staff and families.
“There were so many breaks in the continuity of learning last year,” board member Alan Zeithamer said after the Alexandria School Board meeting Monday night. “Some of the teachers struggled with the same math unit for days, or weeks.”
The district’s solution to this is implementing eLearning days for the coming school year, a notion the board approved in its monthly meeting.
This will be the third year that Minnesota schools are given the option of turning up a handful snow days into eLearning days, where students and teachers may work from home when the weather does not allow a normal school day to be held.
The 2019-2020 calendar provides flexibility for up to three snow days or cancellations. Any eLearning days would not be activated until the fourth snow day, with notification of an eLearning day given at least two hours prior to the scheduled start of school.
The district learned from other districts that have used eLearning before, including Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, Edina, Farmington, Shakopee, Byron and Morris.
Online learning plans are required to be adopted by the school board annually for adjustments. There can be up to five eLearning days in one school year. The plan is developed with teachers and must include accommodations for students without internet or with insufficient access. It also must provide accessible options for students as needed.
Activities are planned by a committee of teachers at each grade level and are sent home prior to a potential snow day. Activities for students – those in grades 5-12 are already supplied with a laptop device – can also be shared via digital tools.
Rick Sansted, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, delivered the presentation about eLearning days to the board. He said a challenge for students to overcome, especially at a younger age, is staying focused while working from home.
“One of the greatest (insights) that we took away from our conversations with other districts is that particularly when this happens the first time, is students are very overwhelmed by the volume of work," he said.
However, he said the district still wants students to be able to learn in an independent fashion, and they will be able to access teachers online or by telephone to make this process go smoothly.
Students in kindergarten and grades 1-2 will be expected to spend approximately one to two hours per day, while the figures for grade 3-5 students are for two to three hours per day, students in grades 6-8 will be asked to spend approximately 20-25 minutes per class or 2-3 hours per day, and for students in grades 9-12, approximately 45 minutes per class or three hours a day.
Students who complete the tasks are counted as present. Students who do not complete the tasks within three school days of the eLearning day will be counted absent.
Board member Angie Krebs said after the meeting that the district is hoping to not need eLearning days, because it would be ideal if the weather cooperated.
“Nobody likes to go to school extra days in the summer, and this is one thing to prevent that,” she said.
Krebs said one of the skills the district pushes onto students is self-direction.
“This gives them some opportunity to do it.”