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Snow Days at Nevis School: There's an app for that

"Snow Days" may be a thing of the past at Nevis School if a proposal for "E-Days" is approved. "E-Days," also known as Electronic Learning Days, is a program where teachers put all their assignments online so students can do the work from home when it is not safe to bus them to school. These days count as student contact days and do not have to be made up in the spring.

The district is in the process of exploring this concept. It is on the agenda for discussion and feedback from community members at the board work session from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12 , with a vote at the Monday, Dec. 18 board meeting held at 7 p.m. in the school media center.

"Our technology team has been working on this concept for quite awhile and now we're getting to the nuts and bolts needed to implement it," Superintendent Gregg Parks said. "I'm very proud of the work they have put into this."

Three teachers on the technology team presented the E-Day concept at Monday night's school board meeting: Amy Klimek (grades K-2), Calvin Gunn (grades 3-5) and Katrina Carrier (high school).

Klimek has been helping plan the process for children in kindergarten to grade 2. They go to the school website, click on their teacher's name for attendance and start the day with a "morning meeting" explaining the day's schedule, which includes a variety of learning activities, physical education and music assignments that can be done at home.

"We are using apps the students are already familiar with," she said.

Teachers post assignments online through Google Classroom. This is usually done in advance, but can also be updated on the day of the storm.

"Teachers can see which students are checked in for attendance and who has completed their assignments," Gunn said.

If the board approves going forward with the plan, a technology survey will be sent home with all students to see how many families have the capability to use E-Days from home. Students participating in E-Day can use their smartphone, laptop or iPad with internet access to log in. There will also be a home test before the system is implemented to make sure the links are working.

"All high school teachers use Google Classroom for their assignments and 90 percent of my students have a phone they can use to complete them," Carrier said. "Google Classroom is a free app they can download. Instead of making up a snow day, there's an app for that."

If E-Days are implemented, parents would receive notification about them on their phone through School Messenger, the same way they are notified about snow days. Students would be able to complete their work for that day online.

Those without internet access would receive a backpack of homework or "blizzard bag." High school students would also have a window of time to use the school's internet to complete their assignments after the E-Day.

Log-in times for attendance are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with assignments due by midnight. This gives students the freedom to sleep in if they want to and still get their assignments turned in by the deadline, giving them a partial "snow day." How long it takes to complete the assignments depends on the student.

"Students will get the same content at home they would get in the classroom," Carrier said. "Parents can also access their student's assignments by teacher invitation." This feature allows parents to log in and see if their student's work is completed.

Parks said one mother of a student in the district who heard about the possibility of E-Days was concerned, saying E-Days are no replacement for contact with a classroom teacher.

Parks said that with the state only allowing four E-Days per school year, the benefits of E-Days outweigh the loss of face-to-face contact in the classroom.

"We are responsible to make sure our students are ready for the state testing that takes place in the spring," he said. "A makeup day in June doesn't help us at all. School is almost out and attendance on make-up days has been as low as 50 percent. You can't replace teacher time, but I think E-Days would be a good option for our students."

Principal Brian Michaelson agreed. "Hats off to these staff for all the leg work they put in," he said. "This opens the door to a new educational paradigm. Nevis is once again leading the way in our area."

Michaelson said technology has already greatly increased opportunities available for Nevis students.

"College classes are being taken by 20 to 30 percent of high school students," he said. "The biggest hurdle may be how many people need "blizzard bags," but we won't know that until we move forward."