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  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Tiffany Stanton of Nashua, a senior at Bishop Guertin High School, works on an assignment via the internet from her home on a Saturday evening. Bishop Guertin students were required to do assignments from classes over the weekend to make up for a day lost in September due to Tropical Storm Irene.
  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Tiffany Stanton of Nashua, a senior at Bishop Guertin High School, works on an assignment via the internet from her home on a Saturday evening. Bishop Guertin students were required to do work online this week, part of the school's "Moodle day" program to make up days missed due to inclement weather.
  • Staff Photo by Bruce Preston


    Tiffany Stanton of Nashua, a senior at Bishop Guertin High School, works on an assignment via the internet from her home on a Saturday evening. Bishop Guertin students were required to do homework online as part of the school's effort to make up a missed day earlier this year.
Thursday, November 17, 2011

BG students make up lost days at home

Michael Brindley

It may have been a three-day weekend, but for Tiffany Stanton, Saturday night was a school day.

Stanton, a senior at Bishop Guertin High School, was at her dining room table in her Nashua home working on a set of problems her statistics teacher made up for the class. It was one of seven 30-minute exercises Stanton had to complete over Veterans Day weekend. She also had a four-page worksheet to finish for her Spanish class and a take-home test for her AP government class to complete.

Doing school work over a long weekend isn’t ideal, but it’s better than sitting in a hot classroom at the end of June, Stanton said.

Bishop Guertin is one of a handful of schools in the state approved to make up days by having students complete class work online, according to the New Hampshire Department of Education. Now in its second year, the idea behind the so-called “blizzard bag” program is to avoid having to extend the school year by re-creating online the day students would have otherwise had in school.

This past weekend, Bishop Guertin students were making up a day lost in September due to the impact of Tropical Storm Irene.

“It’s convenient that we can get the days out of the way and not worry about going to school in the summer,” Stanton said. “For graduating seniors, it’s good because we don’t have to worry about pushing back graduation.”

Stanton said reviews are mixed among students. Some feel the amount of work given for the “blizzard bag” day ends up being more than they would normally do in a typical school day, but Stanton said it’s a reasonable amount of work. Ultimately, it’s up to students to motivate themselves to do the work on their own, she said.

Bishop Guertin applied for the program last year, after, like many area school districts, racking up a high number of snow days early in the winter season. After getting the OK from the state Department of Education, the school held its first “Moodle day” on April 1, when the region was pounded with a spring snowstorm. Bishop Guertin uses Moodle, an open source learning management system, to connect with students at home.

The school scheduled two additional “Moodle days” during April vacation to avoid having to push back the date of graduation in June.

Principal Linda Brodeur said the program has been improving each time it is implemented. It’s difficult to re-create a class online, Brodeur said, but the school has been working with teachers and giving them access to training to make sure it’s as much like a class as possible.

Making up days sooner rather than later helps to keep the school year balanced, Brodeur said.

“The biggest advantage is if you lose a day in the first semester, you can make it up in the first semester,” she said.

After being piloted by the Kearsarge Regional School District in 2009, the state opened it up to all other districts last year. There is a list of requirements schools must agree to in order to get approval from the state Department of Education to conduct the online school days. For example, teachers must have remote access to conduct lessons online and the school must have a process to monitor student and staff participation.

In order for the day to count, at last 80 percent of students must complete the work. Students who don’t complete their work over the weekend will be marked absent for the day being made up.

Ed Murdough, who oversees the program for the state Department of Education, said it’s going well and has merit, but added some details need to be worked out. For example, he didn’t envision the program to be used to make up days during the year as Bishop Guertin did this past weekend, but only for anticipated snow days when a day off may be expected.

“That wasn’t the vision we had,” Murdough said. “We need to have some review and some thought about it.”

Ron Fussell, a vice principal at Bishop Guertin, said there wasn’t enough advance planning to give notice for the day lost to Irene, which happened during the first week of school.

The program is giving students an advantage once they get to college, where many will be required to take at least one online course, Fussell said.

“Any time we can bring our instructional experience out of the classroom in an online setting is an important step forward in where we’re moving our curriculum,” he said.

Schools must conduct a survey to show a certain percentage of their students have access to the Internet at home. Schools must develop lesson plans for students without Internet access.

Schools can use the program to make up as many as five days during the school year. Murdough said the logistics of having students do work from home during a school day can be an issue for larger families.

“The most significant issue has been families with multiple children and only one computer,” he said. “It takes a long time for all the kids to get on the computer and do their work. It helps if you give them an extra day.”

The Learning Curve appears Thursdays in The Telegraph. Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.com.