BREESE, IL (KFVS) - A high school in Illinois has found a great way to reduce the number of snow days they have to deal with by introducing a program that lets students have classes at home.
Mater Dei Catholic High School began what they call "E-Learning" days two years ago for important reasons.
"The use of E-Learning days provides continuity of learning that would otherwise be interrupted due to weather conditions," said Principal Dennis Litteken.
They implemented this when they experienced nine snow days one winter, which greatly interrupted their schedule.
Here is what they did.
They started by using "Schoology," an online course management system that allows teachers to create and manage academic courses for their students.
According to the website, it provides teachers with a method of managing lessons, engaging students, sharing content, and connecting with other educators.
Schoology is not the only website available for online course management, but it is the one Mater Dei chose to implement.
"Prior to implementing our E-Learning day, we needed to find a school management system the faculty was comfortable using. During the previous year the faculty experimented with several programs before deciding on Schoology as the program of choice."
Once they developed an account, teachers created each of their classes on the site.
Schoology assigned each class section an access code that teachers provided their students, enabling them to enroll in the classes. Students sign in to Schoology and enroll in their classes at the beginning of each semester, making sure they are ready to use the program.
On an E-Learning day, attendance is taken in each class to make sure all students are actively engaged.
During the class time, students can participate in class discussions, review the day's lesson, turn in work, and have the opportunity to ask questions about assigned work.
The schedule used on an E-Learning day is shorter than the typical schedule day.
Mater Dei uses their "X-Day" schedule with dismissal at 11:15, a schedule used on professional development days.
When it came time to implement the program Mater Dei took many steps to ensure the transition would be as smooth as possible for everyone.
"Staff development was also an important factor in preparing for our first E-Learning day." said Litteken. "We had a number of Schoology tutorial sessions that familiarized the faculty with the program. Before our first weather necessitated E-Learning day, we had a practice day. On a planned staff development day, teachers reported to school (to assist each other when needed) and the students remained at home. We did a dry run of an E-Learning day. This was a valuable day that allowed us to work out the kinks in our program."
Though there is no direct cost to using Schoology, there are some basic requirements to insure a successful E-Learning day.
Each student needs a computer (or some type of device) and internet access in order to use the program. While most students are equipped with computers and the internet, some families are not as fortunate.
In some cases, families have several students attending Mater Dei who share a computer.
To accommodate these families, Mater Dei has purchased some laptops that students may check out in advance if they think a snow day is likely to occur.
The reception to Schoology has been very positive and teachers as well as students have commented on its usefulness.
Many classes use the program to enhance classroom activities throughout the school year.
"The E-Learning days have enabled us to keep the flow of the class going without weather interruptions," said science department chairperson Marvin Eversgerd.
"Because of the shortened schedule, the E-Learning day allows the students to both complete the school day and enjoy the snow day," stated senior Jason Martz.
So far, it seems that E-Learning has been very beneficial to the school, and possibly more schools (public and private) may consider implementing similar programs in coming winters.