In January and February, the students and faculty in the Henderson County Public Schools missed six days of school because of inclement weather. Although “snowcations” seem fun at the time, making up the days by adding days to the end of the school year and going to school on Memorial Day are not ideal options.

But students in the Transylvania County Schools will not have to make up all the days they missed because the school board allowed them to attend “virtual days” on three of the weekdays that school was cancelled. Each student was expected to complete daily assignments online using their Chromebooks. This work was counted as a school day; therefore, they do not have to make up the days missed.

“This is a pilot program, so we’re exploring uncharted territory,” said Kevin Smith, Transylvania schools and community relations coordinator. “What seemed reasonable was (to) give the students the days that they are off and then five days after coming back to school. We didn’t set it so that every student had to check in with their teacher because not everyone has Internet. In a snow or ice storm, there can be any kind of interruption.”

Middle and high school teachers assigned work for each virtual day, and were available for questions by phone or email. All assignments for the three virtual days are downloaded at school and turned in once school reopens. This accommodates students that both do and do not have access to Internet at home.    

“About 80 percent of our students have Internet at home, which means, 20 percent of our students don’t. So we had to have a system that worked for any student, anywhere, to work on this material,” Smith said.

Transylvania County has been working on virtual days since last November, where they ran a test run with Brevard Middle School. They have also been one-to-one, meaning that each student is issued the same kind of technology for more than five years. Their first four years the county assigned netbooks to each student, but now they have switched over to Chromebooks.

“We’ve settled on Chromebooks as something that makes a lot of sense for us. Google Apps, Google Drive and Google Chrome have worked very very well for us. In fact, a huge number of our teachers also use Google Classroom,” Smith said. “So many things integrate with that little machine.”

Each teacher at West was issued a Chromebook this year to prepare in case the county does go one-to-one in the future. Science teacher Sergey Zalevskiy and math teacher Tyler Honeycutt have received classroom sets of Chromebooks this year as a pilot program.

“(The one-to-one pilot]) has been very successful so far,” Principal Shannon Auten said.  “All of their assignments are online. They are going to do their North Carolina Final Exams online, which will be the first for us other than English II for online exams other than benchmarks. So I think it will be very positive.”

One-to-one is one of the biggest factors that allowed Transylvania’s virtual days to become a reality. Auten said she likes the idea of virtual days for inclement weather.

“I definitely think (virtual days) are something West could handle,” Auten said. “A lot of our teachers now have their assignments, their tests, their whole lessons,  everything online. I think it would absolutely be doable, especially at West with the way our teachers are jumping on board with the technology this year.”

Even students believe virtual days show promise. According to sophomore Ross Davis, giving up a few hours to get counted present for school would not put a damper on his snow day.

“I believe virtual days could be a very good resource to get school work done on days where it is unsafe to travel,” Davis said. “That way it won’t cause us extra days that have to be made up at the end of the year.”

Virtual days have had positive feedback in Transylvania County. From their flexibility, their accessibility, to their individualized approach, virtual days presented incredible results. Smith reported that 95 percent or higher completed their work.

“Any break from school puts students back a step or two, whether it’s in reading, in routines, you name it,” Smith said. “There are things that you have to retrain students to do every time we take a break and come back.”

By Samantha Gonski

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