By Bob Skolnik
During the bitter cold snap last week, Riverside-Brookfield High School was shut down for two days -- but that didn't mean that school was called off.
For the first time RBHS implemented "eLearning days," where students were expected to do classroom assignments at home on their school-issued Chromebooks.
This means that RBHS students won't have to make up the two days lost to the cold last week as their counterparts at Lyons Township High School and local elementary and middle schools will have to do.
The eLearning days at RBHS were possible because this is the first year that every RBHS student has a Chromebook under a one-to-one program begun four years ago and phased in one graduating class at a time.
"I think this is a great example of why we were excited to move to a one-to-one school four years ago, because it just creates a lot of other opportunities to extend the learning beyond the walls of RB that weren't possible before," said RBHS Principal Kristin Smetana.
The eLearning days were also possible because a change in the state's school code, which no longer requires students to be in school for five hours to have the day count as "official." Public schools in Illinois are required to hold 176 school days during the academic year.
"When Illinois changed their requirement, we thought that eLearning would be a great option for us, because it allows us to continue on with the curriculum and not have to worry about falling behind," Smetana said.
Last fall, RBHS administrators discussed having eLearning days on days when school would be closed due to bad weather. With last week's bitter cold being forecast well in advance, Smetana said that it was the perfect opportunity to try it out.
Students were required to sign in to an online learning management system by no later than noon on the eLearning days. They had an assignment for each class, often watched some type of video, and then typically had to complete a worksheet or some type of written assignment based on what they watched.
Assignments were due within two days of the eLearning day. Teachers were supposed to be available via email from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Students without internet access at home were referred to local libraries -- all of which were closed all of Wednesday and on Thursday morning -- and local coffee shops as places where they could go, and brave the cold getting there.
Those without internet access could also have a parent call the school, giving the students an extra day to complete the assignment and not be counted as absent.
Smetana said that 96.5 percent of RBHS students signed in on Wednesday and 92.7 percent did so on Thursday.
The Landmark talked to a couple of students about the eLearning days. Senior David Keen, son of school board member John Keen, said that he signed in both days a little after 9 a.m. He said that the work load was not too demanding.
"They didn't give too much work because they know you can't ask for help," Keen said. "I was basically done by noon each day."
Smetana said that the goal was not to have students spend the same equivalent of a regular school day working at home.
"In terms of seat time our intention was never to replicate the seat time of being in school a full day," Smetana said. "I think that would be difficult for any person to complete seven or eight hours of work on a computer. Our goal was for the students to learn the objectives that they should have learned in class."
Smetana said initial reports indicate that the eLearning days went well, but she added that she will be consulting with teachers and students soon to more closely examine how they worked and what improvements can be made in the future.
"I thought it went really well especially being our first time engaging in eLearning," Smetana said. "Informally some teachers have reported that they were very pleased with the number of students that have completed the assignment as well as the quality of the assignments that were submitted."
The assignments were as varied as the classes.
In the drawing and painting class, students were asked to draw the interior of the room that they were in and to look out a window and the draw the landscape of what they saw.
In the music portion of the Fine Arts Survey class, students followed along with a video about how to play ukulele and then wrote about what they did well at and what they struggled with.
For a Wellness class students recorded themselves doing a series of pushups.
Still it wasn't the same as a day in school.
"I thought it's useful," Keen said. "It's a good idea when you obviously can't go to school, but I didn't think it's a great substitute."