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Students keep up with courses via remote school
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Lakeview Academy sophomore Thomas Paris participates in a blog class discussion of current events from his home Wednesday while school is closed because of the weather. - photo by Tom Reed

A Gainesville preparatory school is proving snow days could become a thing of the past.

Lakeview Academy teachers piloted "remote school" Wednesday, where students did classwork from home on a computer.

"We just came off a long holiday break and had three great days of school, but now the ice has come and we can't get to school," Berry said. "We don't want to interrupt that process, and this will allow us to pick up where we were last week."

Lakeview student Thomas Paris, 15, said he checked the online assignment planner in the morning and found a history reading assignment, so he wouldn't fall behind in his Advanced Placement course.

"We also did a blog from home, it was cool. We were all blogging at the same time," he said.

Paris and his schoolmates will continue their online classes today, too.

Lakeview was among dozens of area school to close down this week after Sunday's snowstorm led to impassable roads across the state. Gainesville and Hall County public schools will again be closed today.

"Even though primary roads are becoming clear, a lot of the secondary roads are very icy," said Gordon Higgins, spokesman for Hall County Schools.

Twelve-month employees for both the Gainesville and Hall County systems - such as principals and central office personnel - are asked to report to work Thursday if they can make the drive.

At Lakeview, though, remote school will continue.

Some teachers provided lessons to snowbound students in real time, said Connie White, the academy's technology director. Teachers can use Moodle, a free web application that allows them to post content to online forums, as well as DyKnow, which allows teachers to make interactive whiteboards.

"It's like being at school but in a blended environment," White said. "They can hear the teacher and follow along with slides."

White said the school began providing laptops to high school students 12 years ago, and the program was extended to middle school students earlier this school year.

Seventh-grader Katie White said her studies included an online quiz on static electricity and a digital history lesson on World War II. She devoted the rest of her afternoon to playing in the snow.

"I didn't think it's that bad. It's kind of fun actually," she said. "You can learn in your pajamas and chew gum."

The remote school was created in 2009, in case the school needed to close due to an influenza outbreak.

However, the technology has never been used until now, Berry said.

"We thought this would be a good chance to test it. There are a lot of things that can keep kids home from school such as floods or snow," Berry said.

"Our students also come from 12 counties and many can't get to school in conditions like this."

Educators also bought into the idea of teaching from home Wednesday, such as middle school technology teacher Lynn Zottnick.

"It's different being able to work from home, but I like that fact that we can still have school - it makes for less of a chance of having to make up school later in the year," Zottnick said.

White explained that a growing number of schools are using the Internet to expand the boundaries of the classroom. She believes replacing snow days for online days could become more common statewide in the future.

"Online learning is growing astronomically and there's a shift from traditional teaching," White said.

Area public schools are already using technology in similar ways. Students at Woods Mill High School have logged 47 hours of online work this week, despite the closures, Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.

Dyer said the district will discuss more online options for students during inclement weather at the next school board meeting.

"Because there's uneven access to technology, it would be a plan we would suggest to parents and certainly not have any requirement of tracking them online. We've been encouraged that our high school students have worked so hard," Dyer said of Woods Mill.

Higgins said Hall County teachers there are posting assignments online as usual, though some individual departments may be using Internet study.

Dyer said it looks likely students will resume classes on Tuesday of next week, as road conditions are not expected to improve this week. Students also have Monday off for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and the district will not have classes that day, Dyer said.

"Many students are doing a day of service and that day is planned," she said.

 

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