By Dermot Connolly
Snow days in District 230 may not be as enticing for students as they once were, now that they are becoming eLearning days — essentially, “work from home” days.
The Board of Education voted last Thursday to begin implementing eLearning Days instead of traditional emergency school closing days for bad weather or emergency circumstances at the district’s three high schools: Stagg in Palos Hills, Sandburg in Palos Heights, and Andrew in Tinley Park.
District Superintendent Dr. James Gay said the district is following guidelines for eLearning Days that were recently put in place by the state of Illinois for schools that wish to adopt eLearing Days.
Implementing them was made possible since all students have been issued Chromebook laptop computers, and digital infrastructure is in place.
“In a technological world where college courses and remote work arrangements rely more heavily on virtual environments, eLearning Days are a great way to expose students to these scenarios while being supported by teachers and staff,” said Gay in a statement posted on the district website.
“Technology progression in District 230 has paved the way and a program like this is a great experience for students to own and manage their learning,” said John Connolly, chief technology officer for the district.
He said the “new and innovative” is becoming more widely used, with more districts approving its use.
“We started planning in June. The systems and technology infrastructure were in place, but planning on the procedures and gathering information from the various stakeholders and other districts did take time,” said Connolly.
Connolly said the cost-savings of working from home rather than having the schools open was not a deciding factor in implementing the system.
“Having eLearning days will allow the district to utilize remote learning in the case of an emergency closure, which happens mostly due to snow or cold in our area. It also guarantees that student learning is not interrupted and students do not have to wait until the end of the year to "make up" learning,” said Stacey Gonzales Ed.D., the director of curriculum for the district.
“It allows teachers and students to stay on pace, especially during the first semester,” said Gonzales.
She noted that a few other schools in the area, including Oak Lawn Community High School and Reavis High School in Burbank are also using them.
Gonzalez said eLearning days allow students and staff “to learn and work virtually at home instead of having to cancel school, providing a continuation of learning in their coursework without disruption. This is especially helpful for first semester courses that would lose the day of instruction completely since make-up days are traditionally held at the end of second semester. It is also beneficial for those enrolled in Advanced Placement courses as the make-up days are traditionally held after the AP exams are administered,” she explained.
She said that the administration has been exploring eLearning Days as an option over the past few months.
“We've looked at how other school districts structure the experience. We've sought feedback from students, staff, and community through a number of advisory and committee meetings and we sought input through a survey that was open to all community members,” she said. “Feedback gathered was considered as we finalized the plan to present at a public hearing that was held before the School Board meeting on Dec. 19,” Gonzalez said.
Under the new system, all students and teachers in every class, including physical education, will have eLearning assignments, Gonzales said.
“Through the use of technology, there are numerous ways students can demonstrate learning. For example, a video of exercise or other learning that may be occurring would provide teachers evidence of student learning on an eLearning day,” said the curriculum director.
“The advantage that students will be able to continue to progress in their learning without interruption is crucial to ensure our students meet their learning goals. In addition, we believe our Digital Learning Program provides learning experiences, both on a potential eLearning day or other day, that will prepare them for post-secondary experiences they will likely encounter using digital tools,” concluded Gonzales.