Snowmageddon…a story about attendance and virtual schools

If you live in the Northeast you've been privy to the two major Nor'easters that have hit DC/MD/PA over the past week. Snowmaggeddon is what they've called it, surpassing the most snow in 100 years mark easily (supposedly set at 64') I grew up in Harrisburg, PA, about an hour and a half West from School of the Future, and I used to look forward to snow storms and the possibility of school cancellations. My brother and I would hope for as much snow as possible hoping to miss as many days of being in school. Similarly, some kids at School of the Future (SOTF) were hoping for 'worst' so that they could hang out at home for the next couple of days, but there was one group of Learners that watched and worried as the storm approached and as announcements herald the closing of school at least for two days.

 I'm talking about Ms. Cooper's AP Calculus class, a group 11 seniors primed and ready for graduation. Unlike their underclassmen peers, they have little time for school closings, as it doesn't change the amount of work that needs to be accomplished prior to them graduating. Most of these kids have 100% attendance even though all of them use public transportation to get to school. As a matter of fact one of them travels over an hour every day to get to school on time at 9am. I could go off on a tangent here and speak in depth about the challenges of attendance and other demographic factors in West Philadelphia, I could quote research that shows later start times lead to positive attendance and engagement, but I'll refrain from that and save it for a later post 🙂 Most have their acceptance letters, Penn State, Bloomsburg, and other state schools, and to them another day the school is closed is another day of work that needs to be accomplished. Sound familiar? It should, as adults, we lose the desire to be 'stuck at home' during snow storms for fear of the amount of work that awaits once we dig ourselves out of a blizzard. We cringe at the amount of email that will pile up if we don't have access to the internet or the power goes out for any period of time. Then there are those of us that have started to master the use of technology in the 21st century, managing it, molding it to support our hectic lifestyles and deadline driven workloads.

 Similarly, the kids in the AP Calculus class don't understand why school can't go on even if the building is closed. Interesting, high school kids suggesting that they can still accomplish work even though their not physically in the building? Blasphemy! Or is it? Many schools have started to ask the question about Virtual Schools and the idea is taking off. Technologically, the concept is 'easy', in that bandwidth, resources and connectivity are rarely a problem in today’s digital age. Just walk to your neighborhood Starbucks, McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts or other chain restaurant and I guarantee you, you'll get connected. Visitors to the school often ask, "So how do the kids get connected if they're at home and don't have broadband", I try to hide my smile as I answer this question. I conducted a survey last year and over 70% of our kids 'had access outside of school' and I have no doubt that every kid who owns a laptop knows where and how to get connected outside of school, and with hundreds of business offering free wireless to patrons, as well as libraries, airlines and buses, wireless access is becoming ubiquitous in the US.

But how much is too much, for the kids at SOTF, they're starting to be programed not by Microsoft technologies (as many have suggested) but by the demands of being an adult in the 21st century. Being connected has its pitfalls, as does work related stress and not being able to have good work life balance. As I speak with these learners, I talk about managing technology, what they can expect as a working adult, what college may be like since the old phrase (and I'm dating myself here) "the dog ate my homework" is no longer a valid excuse for not turning in an assignment.

Before they're rushed out of the school for the day I turn to Ms. Cooper and ask her about having kids turn in work over the web and she says, "they know they can submit their work a hundred different ways, the portal, email or skydrive, they'll figure it out", and that is exactly what I expected to hear.

The mission and vision of the school remains the same: Continuous - where learning happens ANYWHERE, Relevant - where learning is designed with the learner in mind, and Adaptive - where learning happens regardless of the challenges in experiencing it, and that's what this school strives for, good job Ms. Cooper.

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