One more storm??
It's been a brutal winter for most of the country and especially for those of us living in the Northeast, where I recently found myself trudging along the icy streets of Manhattan desperately holding onto the mittened hand of my stumbling young daughter. We were making our way through several inches of accumulating snow in a slippery attempt to cover the 10 blocks between our home and her brownstone pre-K without anyone falling on their keisters. Uncharacteristically, the school in question had not cancelled classes despite the blizzard-like forecast.
For some still undetermined and hotly debated reason, our new mayor of New York City and his newly appointed school's chancellor made the decision to keep NYC public schools open during the same major snowstorm that had New York's governor declaring a state of emergency, shutting down interstate highways and urging people to stay at home at all costs.
For their actions, the mayor and his chancellor faced a browbeating from local media. The daily papers had a field day echoing the irate sentiments of frustrated parents citywide. The school kids themselves even got involved, commencing Twitter campaigns against the mayor and creating an "Impeach Bill de Blasio" petition based solely on this man's one, admittedly poor, snow day call.
I wasn't as angry as many of my neighbors were -- and my daughter got to school just fine. But I couldn't help thinking to myself as I then trudged off to my office, now late for work, why a school cancellation policy was the focus of controversy at all. Haven't broadband connections and tablets, if not smart phones, made the whole notion of a snow day obsolete? When the flakes begin to fall, doesn't it make sense for education process to simply move online?
As it turns out, on the same morning my daughter and I were sloppily blazing a trail to school, the students of Pascack Valley Regional High School District in neighboring New Jersey were attending "virtual" classroom sessions from the comfort of home. Equipped with district-supplied laptops, the high schoolers logged onto the school's network, contacted their teachers and were given assignments to complete along with check-in times to be honored. While still a pilot program, both the school district administrators and teachers seem overly pleased with the outcome. The students? As you can imagine, not as enthusiastic.
Do snow days really warrant this much attention? Although some states like Georgia make it optional to make up missed school days, a child's learning can be significantly slowed if excessive school days are missed. In the northeast this year, we've had a steady stream of missed school days. Virtual school days would put an end to this -- as well as the mandatory make-up school days that currently cut into spring breaks or school year end dates.
Technology, education and inclement weather have become fast buddies. If these pilot programs continue to work successfully, as they appear to be, virtual classrooms won't be the exclusive domain of the ill or injured students any longer. Or even the bullied. Some schools have actually initiated remote school attendance for those facing a bullying situation. As suggested by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and reported by KFVS-12 in Missouri, online public schools are a viable solution for reaching out to students that find classroom attendance "intimidating." According to a press release issued by the K12 Inc, a business that provides distance learning for home-schoolers and system outliers, online attendance is also an excellent defense mechanism against bullying.
Sorry, kids, the virtual classroom is becoming a more frequent reality -- just like online learning is for your adult counterparts. Poking around, I learned of other virtual classroom programs popping up across the country -- from cities like Chicago to suburbs like Taunton, Mass. It looks as though snow days' "days" may soon be numbered and that our children will eventually be joining us as part of the telecommuter army working from home.
Say goodbye to the snow day. A universal application for distance-learning technologies has finally been discovered.