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How Education Survives a Snow Storm

Despite a predicted late afternoon snow storm, Portlanders went about their morning, bustling off to work and school.

Teachers and students arrived to Portland Adventist Academy, many as early as 7am. But when large fluffy flakes of snow and ice began falling before first period, Principal Jason Bibb sent students home right away.

Calling a snow day is a historical tug-of-war for administrators. After last school year’s record number of weather-related cancellations, schools throughout Portland scrambled to make up the lost time.

For PAA, it was the catalyst to problem solving. The results: eLearning.

Policies for eLearning were carefully planned and could be implemented in a moments notice. And because of that hard work, PAA teachers and students were ready when the snow hit town.

On February 20, 2018, PAA called its first official eLearning day. Assignments varied from listening to podcasts, to reading and reporting on current events, watching online videos, answering online quizzes, and writing essays. Attendance was measured through digital responses and check-ins before 4pm each day.

Three snow-days later, students and teachers shared mixed reviews.

Most students enjoyed the novelty of the day and both teachers and students said they were impressed with quick responses. But from simple miscommunication, students’ self-admitted time management struggles, and technology hiccups, the first eLearning day was not without challenges.

Teachers and students alike said day one was a little bumpy. They reported an 80 to 90 percent participation rate. But after slight adjustments, on days two and three participation rose to 90 to 100 percent.

“We worked hard to ensure that all assignments were something students could do with what they have at home, not dependent on sophisticated technology or resources,” says Mechelle Peinado, PAA Vice Principal. The majority of students had access to computers, while some had to use tablets, and at least two students did their work by smart phone. “We also asked teachers to keep the assignments simple and meaningful,” added Peinado.

Devon Border-Freymuller, a junior, said he discovered how much is lost in digital communication. “I had to ask a lot of questions by email,” he said. “It made me realize how much I depend on body language and tone of voice; especially in Spanish class. But the great thing is that, when I had questions, my teachers got back to me really fast.”

Mrs. Shim held a live video chat on Instagram and gave out prizes for accurate answers about a reading assignment.

Freshman, Olivia Slabbert agreed and added, “I have never used my email as much as I did that day! I really depended on it.”

“Each of my students received an email via RenWeb,” said Bob Johnson, math teacher. “It included a link to their Google Forms document. They filled in the blanks or chose the multiple choice answers to the questions in their assignment.  And in case their textbook or handouts didn’t make it home, I attached copies of the pages.  Their answers were tabulated automatically in a Google spreadsheet. I could see who replied, when they replied, and also see their answers.  Pretty neat!”

Teachers used group texts, email, and RenWeb for communication. But taking it a step further, Mrs. Shim met her English class on Instagram.

“We had a really fun live-video chat,” says sophomore Lauren Vizcarra. “She asked us questions about the chapters we had already read. We could live-text our answers or actually join the live-feed by video. She gave prizes away for correct answers and I got three candy bars!”

Anatomy & Physiology students to use the snow to demonstrate some of their learning.

“I loved that some of my former students joined in the discussion,” said Shim. “Overall, it was pretty fun.”

Creativity made the day enjoyable for Mrs. Johnson’s students. She asked her Anatomy & Physiology students to use the snow to demonstrate some of their learning. Instead of snowmen, students sculpted shapes of the brain and diagrammed its parts.

Snow day squats were snapped and sent to Mrs. Johnson for freshmen P.E.

For P.E. class, Johnson told her freshmen and sophomores to get outside and start moving. “She assigned us 45 minutes of outside activity,” says freshman Kalani Kramer. “And she gave bonus points for making a snowman!”

The Snow Day vs. eLearning debate echos the halls at PAA.

Peinado, an avid skiier and lover of snow, acknowledged the struggle. “We really do want students, their families, and teachers to enjoy the novelty and fun of snow,” she says. “We also need to keep moving forward.  Our biggest goal in eLearning is just to keep things moving and not lose day upon day as we did last year.”

Perhaps parents can resonate with the most important reason of all.

“Our students, many of whom are inexperienced drivers,” says Bibb, “come from all over the city and beyond. Their safety is always our number one concern.”

Maddi ‘s mom and dad joined her on her assignment to get some outside activity. A family walk in the snow made for perfect memories to PAA’s first eLearning day.

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