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Snow days no longer mean no school
Technology keeps students, teachers connected no matter the season
Lottie Landers, left, and neighbor Alicia Flores study reptiles during the Feb. 11 snow day. - photo by For The Times

Reminder: Classes set for Monday
Originally scheduled as the Presidents Day holiday, Monday now is a full work day for teachers and students in both Hall County and Gainesville City schools.

As snow and freezing rain pelted Hall County early in the week, some students grabbed their laptops instead of grabbing their homemade sleds.

“We may look back at (the winter storm) as a catalyst that nudged us towards the incredible digital resources available,” Hall Superintendent Will Schofield said.

As of Friday, Hall County students have missed more than eight days of school (they left early during the first winter storm Jan. 28). Gainesville students also have missed eight as frigid temperatures and icy conditions led to cancellations in both January and February.

For any teacher keeping an eye on the calendar and when standardized tests are scheduled for April 16-23, that’s a lot of missed instructional time.

In hopes of relieving the pressure, school officials encouraged teachers and students to keep up the learning even while schools shut down.

“Students could log into the blended or virtual options we offer, as well as get assignments from teachers’ web pages and submit work via email and get feedback from teachers,” Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.

Every Hall student has a Google account, making it easy for those with home Web access to correspond back and forth with their teachers.

Myers Elementary teacher and parent Kacie Landers hopes it’s a policy that remains in place during future canceled days.

“Normally when we’re out of school for the weather, I would make her read or I’ll make up some random math problems,” Landers said. “So this time, I actually spoke with her teacher. She sent an email and called to make sure I got it. And she gave some specific assignments that she wanted Lottie to work on at home.”

Lottie, a second-grade student at Myers, was asked to research a reptile and put that information into a booklet.

“She loved it,” Landers said. “I think knowing that her teacher took the time to call and say ‘I want you to do this, this is important,’ really meant a lot to her.”

Technology has made continuous classroom access easier for public schools, but it’s a concept not new to private school leaders.

Lakeview Academy students are no strangers to remote school; they already know snow days don’t mean a break from their studies.

“Lakeview is one of the growing number of schools in the country to have a remote school plan,” explained Director of Technology & Learning Connie White. “(It’s) designed to allow teachers to continue instruction electronically should the school ever be closed for an extended period of time.”

As Headmaster John Kennedy explained, how the lessons look depend on the teacher’s comfort level with technology and how they choose to use it.

“For example, my ninth-grade son just finished a video sent by his Advanced Placement Human Geography teacher and the entire class is meeting online ... for a discussion of the content of that video and the readings associated with it,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy himself wasn’t so sophisticated, but the class he teaches also continued the learning.

“On the other hand, my Advanced Placement Psychology class will get an email from this less advanced teacher, instructing them to read the next chapter and look for my email with a quiz attached,” he explained.

It works for students who have Internet access at home, but Landers and Chestnut Mountain Creative School of Inquiry teacher Tom Wandrum both said it can’t make up an actual school day unless every student has access to the online assignments.

“Some of (my students) don’t have Internet access at home,” Wandrum said. “What I did was, I sent an email the day before we were supposed to have the snowstorm ... and I let the parents know that in the event of a snowstorm I would still have work available for them on my website.”

He said the assignment was also discussed with students prior to school being canceled, so they were all aware it would be due when they returned. One of the main bonuses of having that access, though, is he’s able to communicate more easily with students who need extra support.

Even teachers were able to make up some time using telecommuting, with Hall instructors asked to work Tuesday and Wednesday “flipping lessons home to students and collaborating,” Schofield said. They will have to make up Thursday and Friday classes.

But working from home doesn’t mean the days are made up for the students. As far as actually making up the missed class time, both Hall and Gainesville schools will be in session Monday, a day that had originally been off for students in both systems.

Dyer said the Gainesville school board will consider adding March 17 and April 4 as full student days into the calendar as well.

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