So what are digital days again?

By: 
Kate Wehlann, Staff Writer

After schools who applied were granted permission to hold school online to make up for days that would otherwise be tacked on to the end of the school year due to inclement weather or other factors, East and West Washington are moving forward with e-learning or digital days.

Last year, East Washington students had one digital day on a Saturday, but this year, students have had e-learning days on what would ordinarily be a school day. Schools can have two digital days in a row, so for weeks when weather is particularly bad (looking at you, mid-January), there will still be days that need to be made up. During an East Washington board meeting, members approved having Friday, Feb. 16, Monday, Feb. 19 and Saturday, March 3 as e-learning days to make up for the school being closed Jan. 16 through 18. 

West Washington Technology Director Kelly Williams said the school has planned for two digital days so far this year. The school has missed five days due to weather, two of which will be made up by digital days. One of those was scheduled for Monday. 

It’s not just about not having to add days to the end of the year or taking away days that students would have had off without bad weather. The skills to learn and communicate online are becoming more and more important and these days help students learn those skills.

“It’s going really well,” said East Washington Superintendent Dennis Stockdale. “It’s an opportunity for kids to learn in a new way. With real-world application with technology and things our kids will have to understand and know, this is a chance for kids to learn this now so they can be more successful when they leave. It encourages kids to be self-motivated and can really build some of those soft skills employers are looking for. It really promotes communication and collaboration between students and teachers.”

“Nothing can replace face-to-face time with teachers,” said Williams. “This is a good chance for students to learn employable digital communication skills, independence and time management.  

“We do require a direct instruction component,” continued Williams. “We want this to be a continuation of their learning and worthy of a day away from face-to-face interaction.”

Stockdale said it also offers a chance for teachers, who may otherwise feel compelled to spread themselves across all of their students in a classroom setting, to focus on students who need help the most.

“Kids who don’t need as much instruction will go off on their own and complete the work and students who need help will get some one-on-one instruction,” said Stockdale.

He also added that being able to work in this way can be less stressful for students who don’t learn quite as well in a classroom environment.

Despite what some may think, the work being assigned is not just “busywork.”

“The quickest way to frustrate a teacher is to imply the work they’re giving students is just ‘busywork,’” he said. “This is an extension of what’s going on in the classroom.”

“The days are usually more rigorous,” said Williams. “Most students won’t have an assignment due for every class in a day, but that’s how attendance is calculated with digital days, so there’s something assigned to be turned in for each class.”

What about internet access?

So how does this work with kids who don’t have access to the internet at home and haven’t had the chance to download the assignments to their devices from school? What if the day is unexpected, such as the recent closure of East Washington schools after a threat was made on social media? 

Stockdale said students are free to call teachers to get assignments if they don’t have access otherwise.

“What a great way to encourage problem solving!” he said.

West Washington has decided to plan their digital days in the future should the school be closed unexpectedly, such as for weather or road condition concerns, rather than announce that a closure will be a digital day.

“Realistically, due to our location, we can’t ask kids to just go to McDonald’s and download what they need, and we can’t ask them to come into the school if the roads are too bad for the buses,” said Williams. “We’ll have the school open from 8 a.m. to noon on the digital day and we’ll run a bus, per request, to pick up kids without internet or otherwise need to be at school to work. We also offer other times by appointment.”

Parents needing bus transportation for their students on digital days should call the administration office at 812-755-4872. 

Last year, West Washington only had one digital day, with a 92 percent attendance rate (measured by work completed that day) and nearly 100 percent of students had work turned in by the due date. Around 80 students came to the school to work, around 10 percent of the student population.

Both schools have a two- to three-day window for students to have work done and turned in, so students without internet at home can still come in and talk with teachers in person if they need to and have access to books or other supplies they needed, but didn’t have at home.

“We really haven’t had any negative feedback,” said Stockdale. “I’m sure there will be critics, but all our feedback so far has been positive.”

kate@salemleader.com

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