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Forsyths schools practicing for winter weather
Drills for online learning system to wrap up soon

FORSYTH COUNTY — Schools routinely conduct fire drills and review tornado scenarios and lockdown procedures. Many even have acquired a standardized procedure for an active shooter lockdown.

But practice for a snow day? Forsyth County has one. Sort of.

While making snowmen is not on the itinerary, every school in the district will run an online learning for school closure practice drill before the school board’s meeting next month. Most have finished.

The drill prepares everyone, from teachers and students to parents and administrators, for the district’s first potential asynchronous online learning day.

These “not at the same time” school days will require students to complete assignments online if more than two days of class are canceled this year due to inclement weather.

Next year, no such “snow days” are set aside in the school calendar.

The online learning portal, called itslearning, has been stretching its virtual legs since Jan. 5. Many schools used the professional development day to post assignments, giving students a five-day window to complete them. The clock starts ticking on their first day back in class.

Lambert High will round out the drills by conducting its not-so-snowy day Saturday, giving students until Feb. 6 to complete lessons.

“In elementary schools, students completed a five- to 10-minute assignment, not a full-blown one but more like a trial run,” said Jason Naile, the district’s i3 project coordinator.

“Maybe they post a short discussion about a book they’ve been reading in class. Or they complete an assignment and upload it as a file online. Or they can complete something offline and bring it back to school.”

Elementary school students received just one assignment from their main teacher, Naile said, and one from a specials teacher, potentially art or music.

During actual inclement weather, they will need to complete an assignment per teacher.

Students in middle or high school were given one assignment for each class.

The practice run was meant to “make sure all students were comfortable logging in” and to help parents learn the process. Naile said parents are notified by email via the portal when lessons are posted.

This is especially important in the older grades, which do not require parents to log in for their students, Naile said.

Older grades have been using itslearning to help absent students keep up with work, he said. Some of their drilled assignments may be work they’re expected to complete.

“This is helping us to see the increased capabilities of the system to use interactivity in their lessons,” Naile said.

Practicing also allows district administrators to “further identify students who may not have connectivity,” said Marty Bray, chief technology and information officer.

“We’re still receiving requests from schools for connectivity,” Bray said. “We’ve distributed about 20-25 additional Kajeet devices, and we’re working with social workers to conduct needs assessments … so we can meet those needs prior to the real thing.”

Smartspots and devices are being loaned to students and families without Internet access. About 170 devices were initially distributed, but that number is expected to reach 210 by the time the drills end.

Teachers have one week after the test run to provide feedback to the district, which will then rework details and report its findings to the school board.

“We’re not aware of anything major yet,” Bray said. “But when we present the data, we’ll have a better sense of small snags. I’m sure we’ll have to tweak small things.”