Schools using virtual learning to keep students engaged on snow days

Schools use snow days for virtual learning
Schools use snow days for virtual learning(KCRG)
Published: Feb. 22, 2023 at 10:42 PM CST
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WAUKON, Iowa (KCRG) - Severe weather caused nearly every school district in Eastern Iowa to close on Wednesday, but some area districts still found ways to keep students learning during the snow day.

The Allamakee Community School District recently implemented a calendar that plans ahead for days like this by building extra days into their schedule. Superintendent Jay Mathis said they have around 50 extra hours included in their 2022-2023 calendar. That means when they have to cancel school for weather or other reasons, they have some padding to help prevent them from adding extra days onto the end of the year. On these days, they have virtual learning.

“Our school board is supportive of this, our staff is supportive,” said Mathis. “It’s worked well for us, and we do not count those hours as hours of instruction towards our minimum 1,080 hours.”

Mathis says those virtual learning days do not count towards the required hours schools have to complete, so while Allamakee teachers don’t take attendance, Mathis says many parents appreciate that their students have something to do during the snow day.

“So instead of 50 minute periods, they’re more like 35 minute periods, and during part of that time they will zoom in with their classroom, give them a link. Students aren’t required because since it’s not counting towards instructional hours,” said Mathis. “The elementary kids have a lot, you know, have more like packets of work that they open in case of emergency type of situation.”

Mathis says the system also came in handy in December, when weather forced them to cancel school days before final semester exams. “Our teachers work with that, but it would have been really hard to have those semester tests without the ability to do some review and stuff virtually with with the students, so that worked out well,” said Mathis.

In Illinois, virtual learning days can count towards the school year. The Galena School District says it’s an option their students enjoy. “Students kind of look at it as a novelty right now, they understand the expectations at this point, and we have very high attendance for it,” said Tim Vincent, Superintendent of Galena Schools.

Even though these days don’t technically count for Allamakee, Mathis says there’s another benefit to having the built-in extra days. The virtual learning days do count towards the number of days teacher are contracted for, which helps keep them from having to make those up in the summer after school gets out.

Mathis says it also helps teachers keep their virtual learning skills sharp, just in case they’re ever needed.