On snow days in past years, students would go to bed (or back to bed) after school was called off, waking up to play in the snow or stay cozy inside.
Now, many students are waking up to their alarms, picking up their Chromebooks and logging into Google Classroom to start the school day at home.
But snow days aren’t gone entirely — many Mid-Missouri schools have distance learning days instead of snow days only in certain circumstances, like this week’s weather.
Other schools, including the Jefferson City School District and Helias Catholic High School, chose not to use distance learning on snow days this school year but may consider it in the future.
Mid-Missouri saw 3-7 inches of snow this week, causing persistent unsafe road conditions. Most area schools have been out this week and for at least a few days last week.
Blair Oaks R-2 students took Chromebooks home last Thursday because inclement weather was expected this week. During the district’s teacher in-service day Friday, teachers went over their virtual learning plans.
“Two situations would bring about the virtual learning day: a significant number of days missed due to inclement weather or the ability to — with some predictability — be able to make sure we have everything in order for virtual learning,” Blair Oaks Superintendent Jim Jones said.
School closings and weather-related announcements for Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021
The Cole County R-1 School District in Russellville used distance learning Wednesday after running out of most of the make-up days built into its calendar.
“We want to try to stick to our calendar as close as possible because anytime we start making up days that were scheduled to be off, parents may have already made plans,” Russellville Superintendent Perry Gorrell said.
Gorrell said Cole County R-1 is saving two make-up days for possible staff COVID-19 vaccination clinics.
The Eldon R-1 School District also chose to use distance learning after running out of make-up days rather than adding days to the end of the calendar.
“We believe the distance learning taking place now will be more valuable than the instruction that would be achieved in the final days of May,” Eldon Superintendent Matt Davis said.
One benefit of distance learning instead of regular snow days is that consistent learning is beneficial to students.
“We need to probably put some educational materials in their hands so they’re not so rusty when they get back with us,” Gorrell said.
Cole County R-5 School District Superintendent Dawna Burrow decided virtual learning would be the best option this week after Eugene students were off for eight consecutive school days due to snow.
“I thought the students had just missed enough instructional time that it was warranted,” she said. “This has allowed the instructors to touch base with those kids, have some idea of what they’re doing and keep them somewhat in tune to instruction.”
Calvary Lutheran High School in Jefferson City uses virtual learning instead of a snow day if school is called off by a certain time the day prior. If school leaders don’t know until later that night or the next morning, they have a regular snow day.
CLHS does not make up most snow days, so even though in-person learning is preferred, virtual learning is better than nothing, Executive Director John Chrisman said.
There have been some challenges, such as some students having internet problems or not being as engaged, but the virtual learning days are running as well as expected.
“It’s never going to replace in-person learning, but we’re just trying to continue some learning while we’re away,” Chrisman said.
Jones said Blair Oaks has had successful virtual learning days this week. When students have internet issues, the district offers Wi-Fi hotspots to them.
COVID-19-related school closures have prepared teachers, students and parents for virtual learning days.
“Everything you do, though, you continue to try to make it better,” Jones said. “As we move forward, we’ll continue to see what works, see what we can do a little bit better, and then try to do those.”
While virtual learning will never be perfect or the same as in-person learning, weather-related virtual learning days allow teachers to further improve and adjust their virtual instruction.
“I believe that every time, we do get a little bit closer to where we need to be,” Burrow said.