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How a Kentucky School System Is Trying to Avoid Make-Up Days For Snow

school classroom
Thomas Galvez/Creative Commons
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Thomas Galvez/Creative Commons

This school year, the Owsley County School District in eastern Kentucky was allowed to use as many as 10 days for "non-traditional learning." On those days, Owsley schools could teach students using alternative means--for instance, online coursework--even when the school buildings were closed, like for snow days.

This week, Owsley schools used up the final non-traditional school day during the snowy, cold winter weather that hit the state.  Many Owsley students have been learning virtually from home since school was canceled on Tuesday.

“It’s kind of becoming an accepted means of providing education for kids while they’re at home during the bad times outside because of the weather," said Superintendent Tim Bobrowski.

The alternative learning program in Owsley depends on grade level and access, said Bobrowski.

Surveys show around 84 percent of students are connected to the internet at home, he said.

“We know that everyone is not connected," he said.

According to the district's waiver agreement, students who don't have internet at home will have access to "public partners" like the public library. It also said that paper, or physical, copies of assignments will be made available.

For those with internet access, assignments vary, said Bobrowski.

For example, high school (which is grade 7 through 12) students can choose which assignments they can work on and complete then during the alternative learning days.

“We are allowing student voice,” he said.

The students are given ample time to complete the assignments, including those with special needs, said Bobrowski.

To ensure that students are completing assignments, Owsley schools use Blackboard (similar to what colleges use), which allows teachers to monitor how the assignments are being used. The district also has a content provider called Ingenuity that can help tailor assignments for students.

“Let’s assume we have a very gifted child who really needs to be pushed beyond where their particular peers may be at. We have 125 different courses that we can throw to kids,” he said.

The K-3 students are assigned more traditional paper packet materials, said Bobrowski.

Bobrowski acknowledged that it may be difficult to get many students to work diligently and complete their assignments on these alternative learning days.

But part of the experience is learning independence, he said.

“We have a percentage of kids that are not going to participate,” said Bobrowski.

“Those are the same kids that more than likely are the ones that teachers have to push and struggle with to get them to complete their assignments when they’re in the classroom.”

Students, parents and staff will be asked to fill out surveys on the alternative learning days once school is back in regular session.

Owsley County schools began piloting alternative learning days via the Kentucky Department of Education a few years ago, he said.

Twelve districts were allowed to use "non-traditional learning" this school year.

Not everyone supports the decision to use alternative days, he said. But without the alternative days, the district would have to tack on days at the end of the school year or find a way to add days to the already existing school calendar.

“That’s fine until you had last school year and you missed 31 days,” he said.