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MPS scrambles during early roll out of e-learning

Although Marshall’s first snow day caught educators off guard, district says 95% of students completed assignments

Photos by Deb Gau Students got off the bus at Marshall Middle School earlier this month. This school year, Marshall Public Schools rolled out an e-learning plan for days when class is canceled due to weather.

MARSHALL — Marshall Public Schools’ plan to roll out an e-learning plan for snow days had a bit of a bumpy start this year.

Weather conditions on Dec. 9 led the district to call an e-learning day earlier than expected, and not everyone was ready, according to Jeremy Williams, director of teaching and learning for the school district.

“Monday really caught us off guard,” Williams said.

Not all teachers had the chance to give e-learning folders to students at that point. However, teachers could still e-mail parents with assignments. Plus, with the three-day window to complete assignments, students still had time to do their work for the e-learning day.

Williams said 95% of Marshall students were still able to complete their assignments.

“Overall, the feedback was positive,” he said. Taking an e-learning day still had the advantage of not having a “lost” day of class for to make up, he also said.

After extreme snowstorms ended up canceling an unusual number of class days in the 2018-19 school year, MPS put together a plan for e-learning days, where students can complete class assignments at home and avoid losing valuable learning time.

MPS’ e-learning plan was created with the help of a committee of teachers and school administrators, Williams said. The group also talked to other school districts that implemented e-learning days, to find out what might work best. Some of the challenges they faced were how to make it work for all students, including students with disabilities and English language learners, he said.

“We put together kind of a framework,” he said.

For up to five canceled school days a year, students get assignments to complete at home. Under MPS’ e-learning plan, families get an automated phone call, text message and e-mail when an e-learning day is announced. As part of the e-learning plan, teachers and school staff also need to be available by e-mail, phone and digital learning programs for part of the day.

Completion of e-learning assignments is how teachers take attendance for e-learning days, Williams said. Students have three days to turn in their work to be counted present for the day.

The kinds of assignments given to students during an e-learning day vary by grade level and class, Williams said. Students in middle and high school get their assignments from their teachers or posted online.

Children in pre-K through fourth grade, who aren’t issued school computers like older students, get suggestions of activities to do in folders that go in their backpacks to take home. They can also be e-mailed to parents or sent out through online learning programs like Bloomz.

Williams said MPS had planned some preparation before announcing the first e-learning day of the 2019-20 school year.

“We knew the first time we had an e-learning day, we were going to have questions,” he said. However, the weather disrupted some of the district’s planning.

The district had planned for Nov. 27 to be a practice day for e-learning, but that ended up being a snow day. Teachers also had until Dec. 13 to prepare with students for e-learning — but school was canceled due to weather Dec. 9.

“The challenges were the amount of work (to assign) in some cases, finding that balance,” Williams said.

He said another part of MPS’ e-learning plan is that teachers and district staff will continue to review the plan, and make changes to improve it. Staff met after the Dec. 9 e-learning day to talk about what worked and what didn’t, he said.

In-person teaching and learning is still preferable for kids, but Williams said e-learning helps make it easier to keep students safe in weather emergencies.

In those situations, he said, “The primary focus is always going to be safety.”

More information on e-learning days and MPS’ e-learning plan, including checklists for students and parents, is available online at the district’s website, www.marshall.k12.mn.us.

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