How Gurnee District 56 turned a 'snow day' into a 'e-learning day'

Like most suburban kids, students in Gurnee Elementary District 56 didn't go to school last Friday because of the heavy snow and dangerous conditions.

But unlike the others, District 56 students were busy completing school work, watching assigned videos and even filming themselves practicing music instruments and sending the clips to their teachers.

The district is one of three participating in the state's “e-learning” program, which allows students to use district-issued computers to go to their teacher's website, follow the assigned digital lesson plan and turn a snow day into a productive day.

District 56 joined the program three years ago, but Friday was its first e-learning attempt because there were no snow days the two previous years.

“We felt good about it,” Superintendent John Hutton said. “The staff did a terrific job of preparing the kids and made it as seamless as possible. They're the ones that made it a great day.”

Hutton said while he thinks students do their best learning in school with their teacher, the e-learning day was better than the alternative of making up a snow day at the end of the school year.

The district surveyed students, staff members and parents this week about their e-learning experiences and found the feedback has been positive, Hutton said. One theme in the responses was there may have been too much for students to do because some children were working longer than they would on a normal school day, he said.

There also was some concern about younger students working by themselves for so long.

“We didn't know what we didn't know when we started this thing, and now we're smarter about it,” Hutton said. “We are continuing to look for more feedback on this because we want to learn from experience. I think for our first effort, staff did a terrific job and the kids took it seriously.”

District 56 has been a leader in using technology in the classroom for several years.

The district distributed Apple iPads to all 2,250 pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade in December 2012, which caught the eye of the Obama White House. In 2014, Hutton was among 100 education leaders from across the country recognized for transitioning to digital education by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony.

In 2015, District 56 became a member of a select nationwide organization focused on digital learning called the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.

Gurnee District 56 part of national tech superstars group

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