(By Matt Pedigo, The Citizen-Times, Used with Permission)
Allen County School District administrators want students, parents and guardians to be aware that, on Monday, Jan. 9, paper lesson packets for snow days will be coming home with students as part of the District’s new Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) program.
Families are asked to store them in a safe place should they be needed when Old Man Winter decides to visit for a while.
The NTI system is designed to provide do-at-home lessons for students during lengthy school cancellations due to snow/ice. School districts across the state have adopted similar systems as a means of both keeping students active in learning in extended snow breaks, and cutting back on snow days that have to be made up at the end of the school year.
Administrators have emphasized that it is not intended to take the place of in-class learning, and the state has cemented that outlook by allowing no more than 10 snow days per school year to be offset by this method. Locally, the NTI systems won’t kick in until the fifth snow day, Director of Instruction Rick Fisher noted.
The system is meant to be digitally-based, working off the district’s website, allen.kyschools.us. Students visit the website, click on the “Non-Traditional Instruction” icon near the top of the homepage, then look up their grade, class or topic to get started as they’ve been assigned. The online content—including scans of the paper packet pages—is being uploaded to the site over the Christmas Break.
Sorted by subject and grade level, the content varies. For examples, content for Allen County Primary Center’s grades kindergarten through three (all of whom will get the paper packets)are all the same, offering six lessons that students choose three of. The Intermediate Center’s content for grades four through six includes an article, a section for reflection on the article, plus math lessons. The upper grades for James E. Bazzell Middle School and Allen County-Scottsville High School are teacher-specific. All include instructions.
However, administrators were also well aware that many students may not have adequate internet access at home, or in some cases a family may have multiple students and only one computer. They also took into account the possibility of power failures in a winter storm that would disable home computers and limit web access to only laptops and smartphones. These were among the reasons that paper packets were also developed.
Over the four-day Election Day school weekend in November, the District conducted a test of NTI digital access by having students in grades four through 12 by having them log on to the website. This would help the District determine how many students had access, and thus how many others didn’t and would need the paper packets. The results showed how necessary the paper packets would be: About half could log on and half couldn’t.
In a long school cancellation incident, when it’s time for the NTI lessons to kick in on the fifth snow day, the District or individual schools will notify families with the standard “all-call,” system, on the radio at 99.3 LOVE FM, or via screen crawls on local and regional television stations, Fisher noted. The lesson plans are individually numbered for “Day One,” “Day Two,” etc.
Students have also been given practice sessions on use of the NTI system, and more sessions are planned for January.
“We want to try to eliminate any obstacles we can now, before it starts snowing,” Fisher said.
As another “fail-safe,” Fisher said a “bring your own device” day is also under consideration. In that, packets’ pages will be laid out on tables for students to photograph each page of the lesson plans with their smartphones. That way, in the case of a power failure, or if something happens to their printed copies, they still have the lessons and can do them manually on notebook paper.
Once the packets or online lessons are used for real snow days, Fisher said the District may conduct a parent/student survey to gain feedback on the system—where things worked well, and areas that may need improvement.
“We spent 12 months planning this, but we may have things come up that we didn’t think about,” Fisher said. “We want this to be a good plan that our community can be happy about, our teachers can be happy about and that our schools can be happy about.”