A bicyclist rides on Ohio Street in Bangor in this March, 13, 2018, file photo. Credit: Gabor Degre

Students in one Maine school district will be spending a couple of snow days this winter doing something out of the ordinary: schoolwork.

School officials in the Five Town Community School District and School Administration District 28, a combined district in Knox County that shares a central administration, are putting forth a pilot project this year that will replace two snow days with what administrators are calling “remote school days.”

Instead of frolicking all day in the snow when winter weather makes roads unsafe for school bus travel, students will be expected to complete assigned work online or work on projects that would be due when they return to their classrooms.

“It’s really to reduce the impact and disruption to the school calendar and programs due to inclement weather. If we look at jobs now, a lot of people work from home,” Assistant Superintendent Debra McIntyre said. “It makes sense for students to also work from home during these days.”

The Maine Department of Education has not yet classified these remote school days as an acceptable replacement for makeup days, McIntyre said, though she said the department is researching the concept and monitoring the results of the district’s pilot program.

The concept is new for Maine, but similar programs have been implemented in Illinois, Minnesota and Massachusetts, McIntyre said. District officials referenced these programs when creating the remote school day pilot project.

A Portland-based charter school, Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, has been working with the Department of Education and the Maine Charter School Commission on snow day learning for years, according to Heather D’Ippolito, the school’s partnership and outreach coordinator. Last year, participation rates in “snow day learning” were so high among academy students that students and staff were granted four school days that they did not have to make up at the end of the year.

The Camden-based district is starting with only two remote school days this year to see how the idea plays out in practice.

“It’s a pilot year. We have to see how it’s going to work and make it better hopefully or abandon the idea if it’s not going to work at all,” McIntyre said.

Five Town CSD includes Camden Hills Regional High School, which serves students in grades 9-12 from Camden, Rockport, Appleton, Hope and Lincolnville. SAD 28 serves the communities of Camden and Rockport through the Camden-Rockport Elementary School and the Camden-Rockport Middle School.

Schools officials will notify parents and students that a remote school day will be in effect using the district’s call system. These days will not be included with other school cancellations on local media outlets.

On remote school days, students in seventh through 12th grades will use their school-issued laptops to complete assignments. Students in kindergarten through sixth grade will be provided in advance with “blizzard bags,” which contain project-like assignments that are skill-based and have a due date following the remote school day.

“We didn’t want it to just be busy work. We really wanted it to be authentic work that is meaningful,” McIntyre said.

During these days, teachers will have “office hours” between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when they will be available to assist students via email. If the assigned work is not done during the remote school day, a student will be considered absent.

If a student does not have internet access at home, the district will provide them with a device that creates a wireless hotspot.

Remote school days will only be called after Dec. 1 this year, to allow teachers to prepare the assigned work for them. Remote school days will not be implemented if forecasters are predicting widespread power outages due to a storm.

In the spring, the district will conduct a survey to gauge how the pilot project went.

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