Parents

No more snow days? Lessons over Internet keep schools in session

Are school snow days, as we know them, about to be bulldozed?

While the idea may leave some students cold, it’s gaining momentum thanks to the implementation at the Cathedral School in St. Cloud, Minnesota. As The Weather Channel reported Wednesday, Cathedral educators are teaching lessons online when inclement weather prevents classes from being held in the building.

In his sixth year as president of the Cathedral School, Michael A. Mullin says the virtual program is working for kids at Cathedral, which teaches students in grades seven through 12.

“It’s one of those ideas that I think was simply inevitable,” Mullin told TODAY.com. “Our students are used to conducting many of their learning experiences on their laptop machines, whether school happens to be in session or not.”

Knowing a polar vortex was approaching and threatening the Midwest with more than a foot of snow, school officials conducted a test-run of the online program Monday. Cathedral conducted classroom lessons over the Internet when the storm hit Tuesday — when neighboring school districts called off classes altogether.

Mullin said the school has been planning and refining this plan for about four years, and that it’s been facilitated by the fact that all of the school’s 655 students and 45 teachers have a MacBook Air laptop at their disposal. (Fundraising projects and annual tuition, which is $8,680 this school year, offset the cost of the laptops.)

“It’s been very methodical,” Mullin added. “It wasn’t any kind of any knee-jerk reaction. It was just a very logical next step for us.”

Michael Ciaglo / Today
No more days off from school? Say it ain't snow!

Google software not only allows Cathedral teachers to upload taped lesson plans for students to view, but also to conduct real-time discussions with students, he said.

Cathedral principal Lynn Grewing told The Weather Channel the school adopted the online-lesson alternative to meet educational mandates and prevent snow days from piling up. To make up for snow days in the past, the school had to open the building over Easter break and even tack on classes at the end of the school year.

“This is what we will be doing every single snow day going forward,” she said. “I'll be honest. There has been some grumbling.”

Cathedral senior Tommy Auger told The Weather Channel, “It's hard to think ahead, but it's definitely better” to hold classes on wintry days than make up for them when the weather’s nicer.

Public schools also have warmed to the idea. More than 2,000 high school students at Pascack Valley Regional High School in New Jersey also logged on for their lessons during a February snowstorm. "It's not right for every day," Pascack Valley Superintendent Erik Gundersen told The Weather Channel. "From time to time, when school needs to be closed, it's a great way to continue the learning."

Back at Cathedral, Mullin said that while he’s proud of the steps the school has taken to educate students during bad weather, he knows that nothing beats learning in person.

“The best learning is going to always occur between a teacher and a student who are face to face,” he said.

Follow TODAY.com writer Chris Serico on Twitter.

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