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Forget snow days. How one school district uses this time to teach students -- and fill their bellies with food

By Nichole Dobo
Forget snow days. How one school district uses this time to teach students -- and fill their bellies with food
The snow day. It’s the time to forget about school, plow down a hill on a sled and build a front-yard snowman. It’s a joyful break for communities where snow days consume just a few days of each school year.
And there is evidence that an occasional snow day isn’t going to hurt academic achievement. But in places where snow-clogged roads stall school buses on a routine basis, the loss of classroom time can be a major problem. It’s like the academic losses documented in the so-called “summer slide,” except these are in the winter.
The Owsley County School District in Kentucky started testing virtual snow days, providing home-based lessons when school buildings are closed, about five years ago, as we reported at The Hechinger Report. This happens when it’s too dangerous for students to travel to school – which occurs about 30 days out of the school year – and educators there say it has been going well. New legislation has allowed nearly 45 more districts in that state to try it.
But supporting a high-quality virtual snow day program isn’t as easy as it might sound.
When we last spoke with Owsley County’s superintendent Timothy W. Bobrowski, in 2014, the district virtual snow days were promising, but imperfect. There were a lot of reasons why the district should have said “no” to trying it at all. The educators there made do, worked toward solutions and have continued to refine the program. That attitude probably has a lot to do with their success.
The school district in Owsley County, one of the poorest communities in the United States, has an advantage over many regions in Appalachia: Most homes have Internet access. The problem in this school district was access to digital devices. Many students said they lacked a reliable computer. Next year, the district, which is a member of the Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools, will give students Chromebook laptops to use at home and at school. The program, which is being paid for largely with grant funding, includes plans for maintaining the devices in the long term and for training teachers.
Another problem solved by the school district wasn’t high tech. When students are at home on a snow day, they don’t have access to free or low-cost school meals. In a place as poor as eastern Kentucky, that often means going hungry. In Owsley County, school leaders discovered that government regulations would only reimburse the schools for meals served when the school buildings were open. The district appealed to the government: The regulations already allowed for summertime school meal programs, so why not in winter?
Today, the district is allowed to drop off meals at several places in the county on virtual school days. The district served about 80 meals last Thursday in public libraries, churches and housing developments. That might not sound like a lot, so consider this: There are only about 740 students in this rural school district, and many live in far-flung places that make door-to-door food delivery impractical anyway. To make the most of the school lunch delivery program, the district selected food drop-off points near the places where the neediest children live.
And, sure enough, Bobrowski said, the students arrived thankful for a school cafeteria meal.
Send story ideas and news tips to Tweet at @NicholeDobo. Read high-quality news about innovation and inequality in education at The Hechinger Report. And, as always, here’s a list of the latest news and trends in education technology.
1. Speed reading: What’s up with Udemy these days? The major MOOC provider has been offering some interesting courses. One I noticed recently was titled, “How to be a Human Lie Detector.” Let’s just say these aren’t the most academic-sounding classes. And I noticed the MOOC provider has a business relationship with Gawker, a website known for peddling gossip. They are using the Gawker site to hawk courses, like “15,000 Courses for $19 Each: Web Development, Photography, Speed Reading & More.” Are “human lie detector” and speed-reading classes the future of MOOCs? Tell me what you think:
2. Lessons learned: The Center for Reinventing Public Education issued a new report this month that examines a New York City-based program that “created alternatives to established procurement processes and built collaborations between the school district and early-stage education technology companies.” Read the full report, Changing Methods and Mindsets: Lessons from Innovate NYC, online.
3. Online learning: 4.0 Schools, a nonprofit organization that advocates for innovation in education, is hosting regional events to support start-ups. And, separately, Blend Kit, is an online course that promises to help teach people how to design blended learning programs.
4. New kid on the block: K12, the for-profit provider of online schools and courses, announced the creation of the “The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning to Provide Blended Learning Grants.” Learn more online at
Stories you need to read
Should Los Angeles County Predict Which Children Will Become Criminals?” via Pacific Standard

What a Million Syllabuses Can Teach Us,” via The New York Times

Going The Distance: Part-Time Online Learning Lacking,” via Wyoming Public Radio

Georgia schools to receive grants for blended learning,” via Atlanta Journal Constitution

New Project in Technology Integration in Schools and Classrooms (Part 2),” via Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

The heavy price we pay for ‘free’ Wi-Fi,” via The Conversation

Under No Certain Search Terms,” via The New York Times
Copyright © 2016 The Hechinger Report, All rights reserved.

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