For any kid who has experienced the pure joy of waking up on a school day only to discover that it’s been canceled due to inclement weather, we hope you enjoy those memories. Because traditional snow days full of sleeping in, sledding, movie marathons and hot chocolate are over. This winter has been one of the snowiest and coldest on record for many parts of the country, forcing schools to shut their doors for days at a time. In the past, teachers would try to make up for lost time by squeezing multiple lesson plans into one day. But now teachers can connect with their students online by uploading digital lessons, holding classroom discussions and even allowing students to turn in homework assignments via email. In other words, much to students’ dismay, snow days are no excuse for a break anymore.
In Chicago, which was slammed by the polar vortex earlier this year, “tele-schooling” is gaining popularity among teachers who say that missed class time can be a big problem in an era of high-stakes testing. As some of the more affluent school districts issue students laptops or tablets, weather is no longer a barrier for learning. “I told my kids, ‘If we’re not here, we can’t fall behind,'” Steve Kurfess, a math teacher at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune. “Especially with math, every day is taken into account.” Kurfess has embraced online learning to bridge the gap between school attendance and required coursework. He’s uploaded all of his lessons — about 600 or 700 videos — so students can access them at any time. Save for tests and quizzes, his entire class is paperless. After the school was closed for two days earlier this month, Kurfess said that 98 percent of his students completed the required coursework. “I didn’t miss a day,” he said.
As the idea of virtual classrooms continues to expand, Ohio has put a law on the books that allows schools to make up as many as three snow days a year online. This way, schools don’t have to extend the school year into summer to make up for lost time. While the plan was piloted a few years back in the Mississinawa Valley School District, a small, rural community near the Indiana border, it wasn’t until last month that teachers used their “e-days” as they call them. So far, the feedback has been positive, with more than 150 districts in the state having submitted “Blizzard Bags” plans, according to the Ohio Department of Education.
Of course, there are still some technological issues to mitigate before virtual learning becomes the new normal. Most importantly, officials are looking for ways to provide equal access to computers, tablets and Internet for students in less affluent school districts. Some are even partnering with organizations to provide free Internet access in areas where students live. Wifi-enabled school buses might soon become a reality, as well. But as access to technology and Internet grows more and more abundant, snow days as we know (and love) them may become a relic of days past.