Let the snow come: these districts don’t miss days

Wednesday was a snow day, but still a school day, for many metro Atlanta students.

Some school districts, such as Gwinnett and Forsyth, use online lesson plans and assignments for students to avoid missing a snow day, a practice they’ve used for a few years, to the disappointment of some students.

In Gwinnett, the state’s largest school district, the threat of ice and frigid temperatures on Jan. 8 was the first time it was put to the test system-wide.

“Our school calendar has three snow days built in,” said Sloan Roach, a Gwinnett Schools spokeswoman. “We used those up in September when [Tropical Storm Irma] hit.”

Making up days during scheduled student breaks can interfere with graduation schedules and planned family vacations.

With the technology already in place and with teachers, students and support staff prepared, the schools decided to give Digital Learning Days a try. The preliminary reports showed that there were no major issues, but Associate Superintendent Jonathan Patterson is set to give a full report at the school board work session Thursday.

To keep all 200,000 teachers, administrators and students from accessing the system at the same time, Gwinnett rolls out assignments by grade levels. The assignments are posted between 8 and 10 a.m.

Students use a student portal to log in to their course pages where they access assignments, resources and other materials. If the power is out, a student may access the teacher’s course page when power returns. If a student does not have access to a computer or device, the student can get and complete the assignment once school resumes.

Amanda Acres, a teacher at Gwinnett’s Harbins Elementary has supplied students and parents with tips to make the situation easier. First, make the day fun. “Do not have them sit for several hours at a time completing work,” Acres wrote. She also advises families to remember to pace themselves and be patient.

“If eClass is needed, try earlier in the day or later in the afternoon if (the system) seems to be slowing down.” wrote Acres.

Some parents reported trouble accessing the system. Others complained, describing the online lessons as “busy work.”

Fulton County, with about 100,000 students, has discussed digital learning days, said district spokeswoman Donna Lowry. Some concerns, she said, include how students complete assignments in case of a power outage or don’t have a home computer.

Forsyth school district officials have worked to address such issues by working with community organizations and donors to supply students with WiFi devices, tablets or laptop computers. The school district estimates about 10 percent of 47,000 students may not have the capability to complete assignments online.

Forsyth allows students three days to complete the work. Students can finish an assignment once they return to school, officials said.

Forsyth has used online learning for four years. The assignments are typically 20 minutes to one hour and teachers usually post the online assignments by 9 a.m.

“It gives us the opportunity for kids to be kids and enjoy the snow day,” said Forsyth school district spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo.

The school district worked to make some tweaks over the years. Caracciolo said Forsyth evaluates how the learning works each time they cancel classes for inclement weather.

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