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Classes stay on track amid snow days

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HISTORY FUN: Evan Johnson, an early childhood engagement specialist at the Indiana State Museum, points to his teeth while holding a fossilized woolly mammoth tooth at the Little Giants Preschool at Allen Elementary.
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INTERACTIVE LEARNING: Hayley Whitehead, early childhood education programs manager at the Indiana State Museum, walks preschoolers through a finger painting exercise on Monday at Allen Elementary School in Marion. Preschoolers from left to right: Blaine Horn, Sophia Herd and Nikoli Lamb.

By Clay Winowiecki - cwinowiecki@chronicle-tribune.com

Local schools are dealing with weather induced closings and delays faced last week. 

Thanks to extra preparation, and some schools enlisting e-learning days, many administrators say they are right where they need to be. However, some have needed to make adjustments to help students get the most out of their classroom time.

"(During two hour delays) we are focusing on literacy and numeracy," said Anthony Williams, principal of Allen Elementary School. "We then shorten the arts and other things."

According to Williams, the school has had a “handful” of snow days and about eight two-hour delays.

To combat disruptions, Williams says his teachers and staff prepare well in advance to ensure classroom time is as effective as possible.

While two-hour delays take a significant chunk of lecture time away, it does help teachers become more creative with lesson planning.

"If anything, two hour delays add more time for the preparation of lessons," he said. "It also allows for teachers to be even more creative and see how they can accomplish the same objective in a shorter period of time."

In terms of how snow days and delays impact students, Williams said it affects the students' sense of routine, but not much else.

Some schools have found it useful to use e-learning days to ensure students are staying on track.

“E-learning just means (students) are completing school from home,” said Melissa DeWitt, principal of Park Elementary School. “Our staff find ways to deliver instruction online.”

When it comes to online learning, teachers have a variety of options to deliver their lesson plans.

According to DeWitt, teachers can record themselves teaching a lesson, or they can use online websites such as Khan Academy, which develops educational YouTube series.

The average e-learning day tends to be shorter than a school day, but not by much.

“It just depends on the student,” DeWitt said. “My own daughter (takes) about 4-4.5 hours of work time.”

According to DeWitt, she stresses to her teachers that she wants snow days to be meaningful school days.

“We don’t have days to lose, so we find different ways to deliver (lessons) and assess (students),” she said.

E-learning days count as a normal school day, so there is no need to make up lost days.

The e-learning days also prove useful for staff training.

“We also use that time for our staff to grow as well,” she said. “We have e-learning activities planned for our staff because it is still a work day.”

According to DeWitt, it’s a great opportunity for staff members to learn.

“Our teachers became energized from the (the e-learning days),” she said. “When they came back many were ready to try new things in their class.”

Valree Kinch, director of curriculum instruction and assessment at Oak Hill, said Oak Hill has thought about bringing e-learning days to the district, but prefers having students in class.

“We’re always open to talking about (e-learning days), but haven’t gone that direction because we’ve been able to address those (snow) days,” Kinch said. “Our superintendent prefers to have kids in school if at all possible.”

To help ease the stress on teachers trying to get their lessons in with multiple school delays, the school uses alternative schedules which shorten class periods so students are not always missing their first and second classes of the day each time the school is delayed.

Out of the 180 school days, the district only writes curriculums for 150-160 school days. This allows teachers the flexibility to go over lessons a second time if students are struggling. It also gives teachers more flexibility to move units around if there is a snow day or a delay.

At Eastbrook Community Schools, there are thee scheduled e-learning days throughout the year. These occur when the school hosts professional development days for staff members and students stay home.

However, the school district is looking at potentially implementing them for weather-related events as well, according to Superintendent Brett Garrett.

“We’re open minded (to e-learning days and) looking at the pros and cons of it,” Garrett said. “(But) we fully believe that the best learning takes place in the traditional classroom. We believe that's where the magic truly happens.”

Garrett said e-learning days are becoming an increasing trend.

“Traditional learning used to end when the teachers stopped at the end of the day,” he said. “But now we believe teaching continues beyond the school day.”

According to Garrett, snow days do make staying on track more challenging for teachers.

“It is really a challenge when we get out of our routine, but all teachers do a masterful job of getting kids back in the proper mode of learning,” he said.