Seymour Community School Corp. is studying up on the idea of letting students complete their schoolwork online at home on certain days by implementing an eLearning program.
It would be a big change for students, staff and the community, but Assistant Superintendent Lisa Ferguson thinks it is worth investigating.
“We are looking for the answer to this question: How will participation in eLearning days benefit students and positively impact achievement?” Ferguson said.
On May 16, the corporation will have informational meetings about eLearning for parents and the community. The sessions will be at 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. at Seymour Middle School. School Resource Officer Keith Williams also will provide information on cyber security during those times.
School staff will have eLearning training at 4 p.m. May 13 and 7:30 a.m. May 14 at SMS.
“We are really trying to give everyone a chance to share what concerns they might have so we can address those on the front end,” Ferguson said.
How it works
The eLearning program began eight years ago through the Indiana Department of Education as an option for school districts to conduct instructional days away from the traditional time limits and brick and mortar setting of a classroom.
It was devised as a way for students to complete schoolwork and receive instruction when school is canceled due to inclement weather so schools do not have to make up those missed days.
The key is for the online work to cover the same content that would have been addressed in the classroom if school was in session, Ferguson said.
But there are a lot of logistics that have to be worked out first, she added.
The intent of eLearning is not to give teachers a paid day off or give students busy work, she said.
The corporation has formed a committee of nearly 50 people with representatives from each school building and departments, such as food service, buildings and grounds and transportation, to determine if eLearning is right for Seymour Community Schools.
In order to have eLearning, all students must have access to an electronic device at home, such as a school-issued Chromebook, a desktop computer, a laptop, an iPad or a cellular phone.
Seymour currently is a 1:1 district, meaning all students have an electronic device to use. Students in kindergarten through fourth grade do not take the devices home, however.
Students who do not have internet access at home will have other options for completing their work, including going to another location, such as the library, or downloading the lessons to their Chromebook before they leave school.
In the event of power or internet outages, illness or other complications with assignments, students will have a few days after the eLearning day to turn in their work, Ferguson said. But regular school days cannot be used to complete eLearning assignments, she added.
A couple of options
Two types of eLearning days could be utilized. Planned days will be scheduled and built into the school calendar so parents know well in advance and can plan ahead.
Schools will be open on planned eLearning days, so parents can decide if their students stay home and do the work online or go to school.
Inclement eLearning days are used when weather conditions create safety issues and schools are closed.
Teachers would have to be available during eLearning days to answer questions from students and parents either by email or telephone. Ferguson said the district also would have a hotline for people to call for instructional and technical questions.
Attendance is determined by completion of assignments. Students who do not complete assignments during the designated window are marked absent.
Seymour Community School Corp. Trustee Nancy Franke said a great deal of work is going into making eLearning productive for all students by making sure it’s more than just completing busy work and providing internet access sites so every child can participate.
She also said the district is working on ways to make sure other details are covered, including access to meals.
“As a school community, we realize there are some students who lose out on more than just learning during a snow day,” she said. “For some, it may mean no access to breakfast or lunch.”
Ferguson said different feeding options may be available on planned eLearning days, including both school and community meal sites.
The district’s food service department would lose about $10,000 on an eLearning day, Ferguson said.
“The process going on to prepare for an effective eLearning day includes input from all aspects of our school and our community,” Franke said. “Seymour schools are set to be the exemplary model in what a productive eLearning day should look like.”
Staff, parents share thoughts
Classroom instructional assistant Sharon Barnett said the option is great for teachers but doesn’t benefit other school employees because they won’t get paid on eLearning days.
“It is not so good for many other people the school employs, such as bus drivers, cooks and teaching assistants,” she said.
Barnett said eLearning might be OK for some students, but many will not do what they are supposed to.
“From my observations, I would be surprised if the students I know would actually do the work at home,” she said. “I see how little they turn in on the rare times they are told to do homework.”
Parent Heather Chase said eLearning is an opportunity for parents to be more proactive in their child’s learning.
“It would be a way for parents and teachers to share more responsibility,” she said.
Parent Kelli Klakamp thinks eLearning is a great option, especially for snow days, but she knows not all students will take it seriously.
“We as parents just need to hold our kids accountable to get the work done,” she said. “I know that is easier said than done; however, I still feel the option is a great idea.”
If approved by the school board, Seymour would join other nearby school districts, including Crothersville Community School Corp., St. John’s Lutheran School Sauers, St. Ambrose Catholic School, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. and Jennings County School Corp., in offering an eLearning option.
Marinda Fowler of Seymour said it’s time for Seymour to get with the times by offering eLearning. She has three children who attend Seymour Community Schools.
“With all the other local and smaller school systems already doing this, it’s time that Seymour gets on board,” she said. “The amount of snow days used each year warrants the use of current technology to help keep the kids on track and not having to make up days after the school year.”
Parent Misti Findley said Seymour needs to stop falling behind when it comes to implementing new ways of learning.
“We should be a leading role in adapting to these things, yet we always seem to be the last ones to jump in and move forward with progressive techniques,” she said.
By not being on the leading edge of eLearning, Ferguson said Seymour has the opportunity to collaborate with a lot of other districts that have worked through the problems already.
Crothersville has been using eLearning days for the past four years and in the beginning went through a trial and error period, junior-senior high school Principal Adam Robinson.
“The first year we used the eLearning day, there was some pushback from the students and parents,” he said. “Some of it was our fault. We had teachers making assignments that would take longer than a normal classroom period.”
Some of the confusion was just not understanding that an eLearning day was to take the place of a full instructional day, he added.
“The kids would sleep in and then not understand why it took so long to complete their work,” he said.
For the most part, by the second eLearning day, the kids knew what to expect and how to complete it, he said.
Google Classroom has been a huge help in handling eLearning, Robinson said. The file-sharing platform is a way for teachers to create, distribute and grade assignments in a paperless way.
Robinson said the benefit of eLearning is continuity.
“There is no pause in the students learning,” he said. “If you are able to have the eLearning day on the day which is missed, you can have class run seamlessly. One of the biggest contributions we can offer our kids is a step forward in working with technology.”
This year marks the first time Crothersville is using a planned eLearning day, he said. While students stay home and do their work, teachers and staff will have a professional development day for safety training.
Robinson said after working out the bugs, the Crothersville community has embraced eLearning.
“We have been very fortunate with how this has been viewed by our stakeholders,” he said. “This community supports the school and is excited for the different opportunities it is able to give to their kids.”
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”If you go” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
What: Public information meetings on eLearning days
When: 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. May 16
Where: Seymour Middle School, 920 N. O’Brien St., Seymour
Who: For parents of Seymour Community School Corp. students and community members; School Resource Officer Keith Williams also will provide information on cybersecurity during those times.