How One Tahoe-Area School District is Reinventing Snow Days

WASHOE COUNTY, Nevada – For a kid growing up in a place that snows, there’s no day like a snow day.

It’s too stormy outside, the roads are too dangerous, and you get to stay home. But in one Lake Tahoe-area school district, the traditional snow day is a thing of the past.

“I was kind of confused at first. I didn’t really know what to think,” 8th grader Kaden Winter said.

It’s now called a digital day.

“It’s like a normal school day but you’re at home,” 8th grader Bradley Jones said.

Incline Middle School is in the Washoe County School District, which is on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. The idea for digital days was born a couple of years ago when the State of Nevada decided that each school day missed had to be made up.

“But nobody likes to do that,” Incline Principal Sharon Kennedy said. “People want to know what the end of the school year is and make their plans.”

Kennedy says district administrators, IT and accounting staff brainstormed what could be done and presented the idea of digital learning.

It works by having teachers and students connecting on Microsoft’s Teams app when the school campus is closed on stormy days. They can use any internet-connected device.

"All of our information is there, and they can tap into worksheets they need, activities we're doing, pictures of examples,” English teacher Sabrina Gentner said. “Once I’m in Teams, I hit assignments, I’ll say something like, ‘Continue reading through chapters.’”

Students then complete their assignments and turn them in through Teams.

“Or you can bring it in because you have two days after it to turn in the work,” Winter said.

Throughout the day, students and teachers are communicating, typing messages to each other through the app.

"Most of the time, students, your classmates will answer you, or also your teacher could help you,” 7th grader Mia Ponce said.

Gentner says students who are reluctant to speak during class discussions are sometimes more likely to chime in online during digital days.

"Way easier to respond online. They will hop onto the conversational piece, maybe because they're familiar with it in their social media. But I get responses from most of my students,” she said. “And then they’re more apt to talk in class the next day.”

The digital day includes assignments from every class in a normal school day, like math, social studies and even physical education.

“It could be shoveling snow, or you could go play basketball or something indoors,” Winter said.

Students work at their own pace, completing assignments in whichever order they choose.

"For some students, it is challenging. And we've had students who've had to take as long as four to six hours to be able to get all the work done,” Kennedy said. “So it isn't easy for everyone. But it at least gives equal access."

For families without an internet connection, paper assignments are provided when digital days are anticipated. Students have two days to get turned in. Those students will also get credit for attending school on those days.

Students FOX40 spoke with gave their digital days high marks.

"You have to do the school work, and it helps a lot for the next day because it just keeps your classroom working,” Ponce said.

California schools currently do not have the option of offering digital days in place of classroom learning. The education code in California requires that in-class attendance has to be taken for a school day to count.

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