In Allen County, Southwest Allen is the only corporation that has added flex days to their curriculum. On flex days students don’t physically attend school. They stay at home and do their school work on their computer.
Though flex days and e-learning days seem similar, e-learning days are used when schools close due to bad weather. They exist so schools don’t have to make up days at the end of the school year.
But, Southwest Allen County School Superintendent Philip G. Downs says flex days have a different purpose.
“It’s a scheduled day, where parents and everybody knows on this day we are going to run an e-learning day and in the morning our teachers get professional development and in the afternoon they are online with kids,” said Dr. Downs.
Flex days count as regular school days. If students don’t participate they’re marked absent. For students who would like to be in school during a flex day the bus routes still run and the cafeterias serve lunch. But most students like to do their work at home or at a friend’s house.
Schools that are eligible to incorporate flex days in their curriculum have to follow a list of requirements established by the Indiana Department of Education. Some of the requirements include providing mobile devices to each students, internet access options and allocating hours where teachers are available for questions. Downs says they view technology as a tool.
“Blended learning is, our view of it, is an idea of knocking the walls down and forgetting about the clock and finding ways where kids can have a little more freedom about when and how they can do things. Using the technology to open up how education can happen and really what we are talking about there is a reminder to us all that there has to be a human being with the student and the computer,” said Dr. Downs.
During a Southwest Allen flex day, teachers gather in a classroom to participate in a training.
In a separate room, a group of students, who volunteered to attend school on their flex day, help in a demonstration. Each student was paired with a teacher. The teachers are practicing how to create a video conference.
Becky Vail is a teacher at Homestead High School. She helps train other teachers to incorporate technology into their classrooms. She says, from a teacher’s perspective, flex days allow them to plan ahead, and it’s a way to keep the momentum going but there’s a lot to keep in mind.
“And that’s the hard part… this is something that we were going to do in class today but I can’t really make it due for two more days because I need to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to complete it but then again I have to have this done in order to move on to the next topic tomorrow. And so there is a but of juggling there trying to keep everybody's needs in consideration,” said Vail.
Vail says e-learning days are unexpected but it’s easy for teacher to upload assignments because students are use to working remotely. Still she can see how it might be stressful for parents.
Vail added, “A parent that has one or two kids it’s not too overwhelming a task but if you have four kids then trying to have them all on their computers and trying to keep them all moving forward becomes a little difficult and then you have working parents, who are out and so you child is at daycare and then when you bring them home now you have hours of work to do at night.”
Jake is a third grader at Whispering Meadows Elementary School. On this day Southwest Allen County Schools announced an e-learning day due to bad weather.
As a third grader, the school provides him a laptop that he keeps for the duration of the year. On the laptop he can access his school work through an application called canvas.
“This is someplace that you can go, and your teachers post things or the school can post things. And you can read what they post or do what they post. But an order to get to canvas there is an app that my brothers can use but I have to go through my school,” explained Jake.
Jake is at home with his mom and two younger brothers. He’s wearing sweatpants and has been playing video games. His brother is playing YouTube videos in the living room. He explains his process to get his e-learning work done.
“This is what your e- learning will look like, and then they can post videos that you have to read, and you have to read all this. And then you just do step by step like a normal day,” adds Jake.
Jake’s mom, Amanda Funk, says it can be stressful to get all her children to finish their work, especially when they have more distractions at home.
“He’s not my difficult one, my middle son is the one that is going to fight me to get this done. Like in school their teacher can get them to get these things done but at home they just see mom and dad and they’re like I don’t want to do this I want to go play my Playstation. I have to fight them tooth and nail to get these assignments done,” said Funk.
Still, she says she does prefer e-learning to making up school days at the end of the year.
“I like it a lot better that we still get our summer break and we don’t have to worry about adding days but it does get stressful when you have more than one child that has e-learning to get done because you have to stay on them to make sure that they are getting it done and remember he still has this to get done and then he still has this to get done but it is nice that we have this option,” said Funk.
Elementary schools do not participate in flex days but Dr. Downs says teachers are interested in implementing them in the future.
In Allen County, Southwest Allen County Schools and East Allen County schools are the only corporations eligible to administer e-learning days.