With winter right around the corner, New Jersey schools are searching for ways to avoid losing a significant number of school days to snow. Following last year’s long, brutal winter, many schools were forced to shorten spring break or extend the school year well into June to compensate for the loss. With no sign of milder winters to come in the Garden State, administrators are in desperate need for an answer to the snow day crisis, and they may have found it with virtual school days.
Last year, schools began experimenting with the idea of a virtual school day, during which teachers prepare their materials ahead of time and post them online the morning of the snow day. Students are marked present that day based on participation in activities like discussion boards, short essays or even Twitter posts.
Last winter, Pascack Regional High School experimented with a virtual school day, which catapulted the concept into the national spotlight. English teacher Matt Morone said that within minutes of posting his assignment, he saw his students participating and engaging in his class. According to teachers, the attendance rate for many online classes was even higher than it is on most regular school days.
Despite numerous successful experiments throughout the state, educational administrators have not yet recognized the virtual days as real school days counting towards the school year’s required 180.
New Jersey Legislative District 18. Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., (D), a known supporter of the virtual school days movement, believes school districts need to embrace these kinds of technological opportunities. However, he does recognize that these advancements will not be easy for all districts to adopt. “Some districts are worldwide examples [of technological advancement] based on what access their kids have,” says Diegnan. Others have limited technological means, and this will cause a campaign such as virtual school days to fail.
With the program’s success at Pascack Regional High School and another New Jersey winter on the horizon, we will start hearing more and more about virtual snow days and may see them integrated into the curriculum this winter.