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virtual learning

Why one district gave students a virtual learning day

Students, teachers executed a virtual learning day to develop online learning and working skills

As college and career skills are touted as essential for students’ success after high school, students in one New Jersey school got a lesson in one fast-growing workplace trend: learning and working from home.

Park Ridge High School in Bergen County, N.J., gave its 500 7-12th graders the option to stay home as part of a planned virtual learning day.

Part of the impetus came from the realization that students should prepare for online-only college classes and for positions involving varying degrees of work-from-home options, said Troy Lederman, Park Ridge High School’s principal.

“We want to prepare the kids for their life after high school,” Lederman said. “Most colleges now have at least one online component. This gives them an opportunity to be exposed to that. There also are a lot of companies that give employees the chance to work from home.”

Teachers and students logged into the school’s Schoology platform for a day of at-home learning, and the day’s virtual classes followed a typical bell schedule to help students stay on track. Park Ridge’s doors stayed open–meaning the day counted as an offical learning day–and staff were present for those students who could not stay home or who needed computer or internet access.

Park Ridge is in its third year of a one-to-one initiative, and all students in grades 7-12 have Macbook Airs.

Teachers attended professional development sessions to prepare for the learn-from-home day. During those sessions, teachers designed online lessons and, working with their departments, offered feedback on other lessons and tweaked their own lessons to make them as engaging and interactive as possible.

Teachers offered short explanations of online lessons, how to embed tools in those lessons with Schoology, and how to design engaging online lessons that would hold students’ attention. Schoology representatives also attended the professional development to help teachers develop their virtual lessons and best practices.

“We explained why we wanted to do this and the sort of skills distance learning can foster,” said Tina Bacolas, the school’s supervisor of instructional technology. “Teachers sat together as departments and did some great brainstorming to share their lessons with colleagues. We have such a great staff that chose to work together, even though they didn’t have to.”

“The educators were open to the idea of the virtual day, but actually executing it revealed a bit of apprehension,” Lederman said. “As they built their lessons, they realized this is something they do every day–the only difference was that on that particular day, they were not physically in front of the students. Once they were exposed to it, they became really positive.”

The teachers’ familiarity with the Schoology platform helped them build that comfort level and make that transition to virtual lessons.

“People use Schoology to log in and access daily curriculum and content–they’re interacting and connecting with peers, students, teachers, and parents,” said Jeremy Friedman, Schoology CEO. “We generally see [school leaders] having this ultimate goal to prepare students for life after high school–independent learning, online courses, and working from home,” he said, adding that virtual days are also becoming a popular way to hold school when inclement weather prevents a school from physically opening.

Lederman said he doesn’t anticipate the school having learn-from-home days too often, but he hopes to do it enough to help students establish a familiarity with online learning.

“This is intended to provide them with a skill and an opportunity,” he said.

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