District among three chosen for e-learning program

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Photo by Kyle Paup

Several steps to prepare for e-learning are present around the school. Seniors Jacob Watkins and Alena Troia take advantage of the wireless internet access granted to students throughout the building.

By Kyle Paup, Editor in Chief

Emergency days have new options after the state approved District 94 as one of three pilot schools for the e-learning program.

“Our teachers have known about this for quite some time, so now what we’re going to start to do is have some conversations amongst our building leadership so that each of our departments can (understand) what we have got to do,” Superintendent Doug Domeracki said.

Gurnee Elementary District 56 and Leyden High School District 212 are the other two districts participating. As the new program is being piloted, the three districts approved for the program will communicate regarding the model of e-learning.

“We will really start to talk to the other two districts that are also doing this to really kind of work together so there are common plans amongst the three districts and that we can all learn from each other in terms of what has worked and what hasn’t worked in terms of how it’s being done. But the initial things that we are going to be doing is we are notifying parents and students,” Domeracki said.

With the communication that will occur between the three districts, it is anticipated that the program will undergo phases of evolution over the years to come.

“I am making it clear to the parents and students, as well as to the staff, that what we look like on our early implementation as a e-learning district will certainly look different from what it will look like three years from now,” Domeracki said. “So we will learn from our actions what works and what doesn’t work.”

When the school has adequate notice that an emergency day such as a snow day may be coming, and if there is the opportunity to inform students to prepare for it, the school will have an e-learning day as opposed to a regular no-attendance emergency day.

Students will have a school day conducted over the Internet with the use of Chromebooks which will count towards a day of attendance. If there is not time to inform students of this possibility, a regular emergency day can still be taken.

“There may be occasions when a surprise happens or an emergency of one sort or another takes place that we would not foresee, and in that case there is always the opportunity to just take an emergency day. That option is still on the table. Really what the e-learning day does for us is it provides us one more option for emergency days,” Domeracki said.

What a school day over the Internet will be like has been a topic of discussion in the days leading up to the announcement of the school’s approval.

“We have had a lot of discussion about what an (e-learning) day looks like. There won’t be a bell schedule, but students will be required to log in because one of the requirements for the schools that applied is that we have to have a mechanism to take attendance. We’ve got that already,” Domeracki said. “Every time you open up your Chromebook and log in the school district has a record of that so we need to be able to have a mechanism by which we are going to be able to take attendance.”

The main focus of the model is to give students the opportunity to have a fluid learning environment, even when not in the school building.

Individual teachers will be able to have much influence over what the model for their class will look like since no two classes are really the same.

“Teachers may choose to have hours where they are available where they could be engaged in some type of Google chat. Some teachers will have assignments that will really just be extensions of their current learning in the classroom. At the end of the day the e-learning program is about continuous construction of what is happening in the classroom currently, however that looks. It is not meant to be an opportunity for a staff member to just throw a random worksheet online and just tell kids to work on the worksheet,” Domeracki said.

Instead of just doing worksheets, a wide variety of options are present for teachers to be able to continue the work in the classroom over the Internet.

According to Domeracki, some assignments may be due on the e-learning day, similar to a day in class. This will be possible for teachers as there are various methods of turning assignments in that they can chose from.

Others assignments may not require anything being turned in, but rather will provide the teacher with a way of checking to make sure the work gets done. This will also be for the teacher to decide, leaving flexibility in the model to accompany each teacher’s preferences.

Teachers will be able to learn from the exercise and evolve the model over time. This is the benefit given to the school by being named a pilot school for the state.

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“One of the things that I think is a challenge is how do we make sure that every student has access. How can we make sure that every student has Internet availability. A lot of different factors could come into play,” Domeracki said.

However, in anticipation of becoming an e-learning school, many steps have been made to assure that the school will be ready for the program so that all students can have Internet access on or off campus.

The entire building has a wireless Internet connection for the Chromebooks, along with an Internet cafe held Monday through Thursday in commons after school. On the school’s website, students can find a list of several places around the community that can act as a source of Internet access. The library media center also has over 100 hotspots available for student checkout.

“We are trying to make sure that students have the opportunity to be engaged learners on these emergency days in providing them every option under the sun. We may find out as we go through this that there are some things that we forgot, and in that case, let us know,” Domeracki said. “This is one of those evolutionary programs where it doesn’t exist anywhere else. We are the point of the spear with this kind of program in Illinois. We are the ones, so I think it’s in our best interest to do a great job at this so that other schools can learn from us as people begin to look at this model.”

In the event that a student chooses not to participate in an e-learning day, the student will be considered absent. If a student cannot participate for a reason outside of personal choice, then they will not be penalized.

“One of the requirements the state has put in place is that if a student is unable to do their work at home they can not be penalized, so that message is clear. It would be just like a student who is absent, they would have adequate time to make up that assignment,” Domeracki said.