Wednesday may have been a snow day for many public school students in Maine. But students in the Camden area still had to do schoolwork during the midweek storm, even if it was from home.
For the combined School Administrative District 28 and Five Town Community School District, Wednesday was its first “remote school day.” While the roads were too treacherous to allow staff and students to safely get to school, students and teachers worked from home with prepared assignments or online coursework.
The remote school day was the first of its kind to be tried out in a Maine public school district, according to Superintendent Maria Libby.
“We’re making history,” Libby said. “I know that our day today will give the [Maine Department of Education] and other districts around the state a lot of good information.”
The school district had been planning its remote school day pilot project since last summer, with the hope of using two remote school days to offset the number of snow days students must make up at the end of the school year.
In December, school administrators’ hopes for the project were dashed when the Maine Department of Education denied the district’s request for an exemption the 175-day minimum school day requirement.
However, the state’s openness to the experiment changed when a new administration took over in January. Libby met with the education commissioner, Pender Makin, and gained approval to try one remote school day, because the district had more than the required 175 school days.
Wednesday was that day.
The remote school day plan equips students and staff with the materials to complete assignments from home or other safe havens from the storm.
Elementary school students are given “genius bags” that include project-like assignments that are skill-based and have a due date following the remote school day. Students in middle school and high school use district-issued laptops to complete assignments.
With the forecast for this week giving early indications that a storm was expected for Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, Libby said it was the perfect day to try out the remote school day because they could start planning Monday.
A letter went out to parents on Tuesday, notifying them that Wednesday would be a remote school day and not just a typical snow day.
Throughout the day, Libby said school officials have been receiving photos from parents of their children working from home. In some cases, parents said that their children were waking up early and eager to start their work.
“There’s been a lot of excitement around it,” Libby said.
But Libby said she has also heard from parents who work from home and have had a difficult time getting their work done because they need to supervise their children. Libby is hopeful the district can use this first remote school day as a learning experience and work out any kinks to continue to use these days in the future.
Because the district’s high school has two extra school days built into its calendar, students and teachers will be able to do a second remote school day this year if weather permits. Next year, Libby is hoping state education officials will allow the district to use more remote school days in lieu of snow days.
“It’s not only what students accomplish today, it’s the impact that one fewer interruption has on the flow of learning,” Libby said. “You’re trading off the value of that educational experience for a day in late June.”