Schools in two townships choose virtual learning over snow day

Main concern is not changing the last day of school

Orchard Valley Middle School math teacher and 8th grade Class Council advisor Joy Shaffer and her family show off their creation.

Many schools across the state opted to give children an old fashioned snow day after the recent two day storm that began Feb 1. But others opted out of a day off and moved to all-virtual sessions instead. 

Washington and Monroe Township public school officials were among them. According to Washington Township Superintendent Joseph Bollendorf, the students still got plenty of time to enjoy the rare snowfall.

“As soon as we entered into this virtual world, it was well known that we would do remote instruction on any day that we would otherwise have closed,” Bollendorf said.

“Our remote instructions are more intense for children, but our kids aren’t on the computer for seven hours like they would be in school,” he added.  “They’re basically on the computer doing projects and various things for four hours each day. Even in that environment, I still feel like there is plenty of time for kids to get outside, get exercise and enjoy the snow.”

Monroe Superintendent Susan Ficke said keeping students in school is beneficial for staff as well as students.

“It’s really a win win,” she added. “It allows us to have continuity of learning for our students … Also, our calendar remains intact and we don’t have to add on at the end of the year, as well as spring break.”

Both superintendents said the last day of school will remain the same, allowing students to begin their summer vacation on time. 

“Everyone, especially the kids, gets excited about a snow day,” Bollendorf noted. “But no one is happy when we are tacking those days on at the end of the year.” 

Monroe Township Kindergarten students Sawyer and Finnley Holman pose with their snowy gear and sleds.

Both school districts incorporated the snowfall into new lessons and adventures for students that were accomplished because of virtual learning. Orchard Valley Middle School in Washington Township brought  together virtual and hybrid students through a snowman building contest. 

“Once we heard about this big snowstorm that was coming, it was just a way to get kids connected,” said Orchard Valley eighth grade class counselor Joy Shaffer. “In township, we have kids who are coming into the building and kids who are all remote, so this kind of connects all of our school community into one activity that everyone could participate in.”

According to Shaffer, OVMS holds these types of events all year round to engage students who are learning remotely and hybrid. Some of these events include spirit weeks for Halloween and Winter, all the students can come together and participate in something as a group no matter what way they are learning during the pandemic. 

Three winners will be drawn at random. These winners will receive a winter supply of hot cocoa.

At Holly Glen Elementary in Monroe, teacher Kelly Cionci prompted her students to use their snow day for activities by themselves or with their families, including watching videos to learn about snow, choosing a book about snow or building a snowman.

“With remote and hybrid learning, we wanted to provide our students an opportunity to participate in snow indoor and outdoor activities of their choice that went beyond their regular daily routine,” said Holly Glen Elementary school teacher, Kelly Cionci. “Our second graders haven’t had a big snowstorm like this in a few years…Some of our activities involved individual or family participation, and it was great to hear positive feedback from our students.” 

For these schools, snow days may be a thing of the past. But the district also wants to encourage kids to enjoy time outside when their lessons for the day are finished.

“The funny thing is that, when you really think about it, education before the pandemic was always reinventing and reshaping and responding to new technologies and evolving what education is,” Bollendorf said.

“It is an ongoing process,” he added. “We were never at a place where  we’re at a perfect model and we are sticking with it. We are always evolving, and now we are in a brand new environment and we have been in it for less than a full year and there are a lot of critics about the work being done.

“People need to be patient and a little more empathetic to the realities of what we are trying to do to help our kids, it’s a tremendous balancing act.”