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BEA now has Flex Learning Days

By Staff | Oct 6, 2019

Jennifer Berkner is the technology and media director at Blue Earth Area Schools. She has been working to set up the new BEA Flex Learning Days program.

Last year’s winter weather had many negative consequences in the local area. The loss of power, many cars in the ditch, the cancellation of many events and the disruption of the school year, just to name a few. At one point last year, the Blue Earth Area School District had to cancel school for four consecutive days.

Although it can be fun for students to have a day off from school because of bad weather, too many missed days can lead to the school district adding days at the end of the school year or the lengthening of school days, as BEA did last year.

In order to help alleviate the complications caused by missing so many school days, the BEA School Board passed a motion in July to establish Flex Learning Days.

“Flex Day learning is designed to keep the learning going through emergency closures,” technology and media director Jen Berkner explains. “Instead of adding more minutes (to the school day) or taking away vacation days, we want to use technology to help offset those days.”

Students in grades 6-12 will be the ones to utilize the Flex Days because they are already taking home their Chromebook computers to complete their school work, according to Berkner.

“The Flex Days will begin on the second day of cancellation due to inclement weather,” Berknersays.

Superintendent Mandy Fletcher will give two hours notice for a Flex Learning Day to students, parents/guardians and staff.

“We don’t expect the students to be on line until 10 a.m.,” Berkner says. “That gives the teachers two hours of prep time.”

And while it would be easy to assume the weather from last winter caused the School Board to act, it was not the case.

“The Flex Learning Days were actually part of a larger plan which we began implementing in 2014,” Berkner comments. “A lot of other schools have already had this plan in place.”

Berkner also mentioned some complications which can occur with the program.

“There can be weather related problems, such as power outages,” she notes. “There could also be technical difficulties.”

But the district has a plan in place for these instances.

“First of all, there is a three-day grace period to accommodate any factors which may prevent students from completing their assignments,” Berkner explained. “It could be anything from illness to power outages. The important thing is to contact your teacher if there is a problem.”

And if you do not have internet access in your home?

“Students are able to check out mobile hot spots,” Berkner shares. “We were able to obtain those hot spot devices through a grant from Bevcomm.”

One of the requirements of the program is teachers have to be available by phone or email during the Flex Day.

“We are in the process of getting a Flex Learning Day hotline set up,” Berkner says.

The state, which refers to Flex Learning Days as e-learning days, says a school district or charter school which chooses to have e-learning days may have up to five e-learning days in one school year. In addition, an e-learning day is counted as a day of instruction.

“But,” Berkner explains, “We can only count student instructional time if the students are online.”

Students in early childhood to fifth grade cannot count these as instructional hours so there is no online assignments for them. They will be encouraged to read, play or help around the house, according to Berkner.

“The teachers have already been putting a lot of instructional material online,” Berkner says. “We are excited for the opportunity to make use of the technology we have in place so we can stick to the original school calendar and not lose vacation days.”