Across the state Wednesday, many Maine public school students awoke to the news that classes had been canceled due to snow.
But for students in one coastal Maine school district, Wednesday’s weather provided the opportunity to work on their lessons from home — the first such “remote school day” to be held in a Maine public school district.
Parents in the Camden-Rockport area school district say the experiment was a worthy one, offering children the ability continue with their schoolwork while also having pieces of a traditional snow day. However, the day’s outcome varied based on grade level, child and whether parents could set aside work to help their children with assignments if needed.
“It worked great for my family. Do I think there are ways that it can be improved? Probably,” Rockport parent Katie Urey said. “As an alternative for going to school late into June, I think it’s a brilliant idea and something that we should continue to look at and [tweak] to meet the different needs.”
The Five Town Community School District and School Administrative District 28 is a combined school district serving students in the towns of Camden, Rockport, Hope and Appleton. Last year, the district unveiled its plan to introduce “remote school days” as an alternative to snow days, with the hopes of creating a school year with fewer interruptions. The plan also aimed to eliminate the need to add days at the end of the academic year in June to meet state attendance requirements.
The Maine Department of Education does not consider remote school days as an acceptable make-up day, and the district was originally told it could only use these days after five snow days. But last month, the district’s superintendent received permission to conduct at least one remote school day.
On Tuesday, with a snowstorm predicted to linger into Wednesday, parents and students were told that a snow day would be replaced with their first remote school day.
Camden-Rockport Middle School seventh-grader Henry McDevitt, 13, of Camden was excited to get the news that he would be working on what would have been a snow day. He said overall the day was productive and felt that the state should allow more schools to do remote school days.
“Overall, the day was pretty awesome because you could choose when you wanted to eat and have three hours cut out of a regular school day,” McDevitt said. “And also the cool aspect is that you can do all of it while lounging in your PJs.”
Students in middle school and high school used district-issued iPads to complete assignments.
Elementary school students were expected to complete project-like assignments that are a part of their take-home “genius bag,” which was given to them at the beginning of the school year.
Urey has two children who attend Camden-Rockport Middle School and one child who attends the elementary school. She said all three were on board with spending the day doing their schoolwork from home.
“I’m sure they would have loved to not do any work, but part of it was novel and cool. They really dove into it,” she said.
Parents said high school students in the district are already used to doing work on their iPads, so Wednesday’s remote school day wasn’t a totally new concept for Cheryl LeBlond’s son, who was able to work independently. LeBlond said her middle school child needed a little more direction to help start the day, but then “fully embraced” working from home after a plan was established.
Both Urey and LeBlond were impressed with the quality of work their children were assigned, adding that they appreciated the opportunity to observe how their children learn.
“My middle schooler, I could clearly see, was really engaged in the full process, talking with students and peers. I could hear him reading emails from teachers and he felt really good when he was done,” LeBlond said. “I think it’s a good balance of real life. You can do some work and have responsibilities, and then go have fun and not have to go to school close to July.”
Students had to begin their work by 10 a.m. and complete some assignments by an assigned time, but they and their parents had leeway in how to structure the school day. Students could start work in the morning, take a break and come back to it, or work right through the day, as long as assignments were completed.
Camden parent Anneli Skarr said her middle school son woke up early to get started on his work and was done within three or four hours, leaving him plenty of time to enjoy a traditional snow day.
“He got up early, he did all the work and then he was hanging out baking brownies and running around outside for the rest of the day,” Skarr said.
But all of these parents acknowledged that younger children might need more of a push to stay motivated and on task, which demands more attention from caregivers.
“It’s an age thing, and it’s dependent on the child,” Skarr said.
For Jasmin Pike and her 9-year-old son Lincoln, the day started off great. Elementary school students were given math games to play, tasked with reading a book, writing a book report and coming up with an idea for a future project.
Pike said her son loves math and was excited to play math games with her, so that portion of the day went fine. But getting him to refocus on reading in the afternoon was a challenge, Pike said.
“My kid — by the afternoon — was like, ‘I don’t want to read a book, do an entire book report and work on a project.’ It was a lot and I don’t really blame him,” Pike said.
Pike works from home and said balancing her own work while having to help her son was a challenge. While she supports the idea of not having students make up snow days late into June, she believes the remote school day plan needs some adjustment to work for all parents.
“I think there need to be more of a tweak to [the remote school day],” Pike said. “I think it’s a lot to expect parents to do on a day off. He could have sat down and read that book if he was self-motivated like that.”
Superintendent Maria Libby has said that administrators will collect feedback following Wednesday’s remote school day to see how the plan needs to be changed.
Camden-Rockport Middle School principal Jamie Stone said that overall administrators believe that the day was successful but acknowledged that there “are some things to do better next time.” While the goal of these days is for children to be as independent as possible, Stone said that it could have been a struggle for parents working from home.
“It adds a little more pressure at home for some of that time, but we can look at how to build more independence into the work,” Stone said.
While the day might not have been perfect across the board, parents said they are happy the district is looking at how to spend fewer days in the classroom in June because of bad winter weather.
“I really liked [the remote school day]. One of the things I’ve just in general felt about the school leadership in our area is that they’re always trying to do new things,” Skarr said. “I think the remote school day is trying to make the system better.”