Kate Diaz was a principal without a laptop computer — a big mistake when it comes to remote learning.
Diaz, who oversees Atalaya Elementary School, didn’t realize she was missing her necessary tool to communicate with teachers and students until she was in the building Tuesday.
It was supposed to be the second day of hybrid learning for elementary students at Santa Fe Public Schools, but about 6 inches of snow prevented that from happening.
Normally, such snowfall amounts would be met with celebration for a snow day by students — and maybe a few teachers. But instead of building snowmen, sledding or drinking hot cocoa, students moved to remote learning, which they have become accustomed to during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
As for Diaz, she used her desktop computer.
“I was wishing I had my laptop,” Diaz said. “I’m getting used to carrying things around each day. I’m just not used to being at school every day except for Wednesdays. I should have known. It was just a brain blip.”
Tuesday might have been a sneak peek into the future of school. The pandemic has forced schools to close for much of the past seven months and also demanded that education be taught differently. The rise of remote learning forced school districts to invest in laptops, hot spot devices and online educational platforms.
Santa Fe Superintendent Veronica García said snow days might become a thing of the past because teaching can be done from home.
“That is one of the positives of the pandemic,” García said. “We get everybody set up from the get-go and get kids used to bringing their Chromebooks home, and there is no need for delays or snow days. They can continue their learning, which is what they did” Tuesday.
García said inclement weather usually causes the loss of three or four instructional days during a school year, but she develops schedules that account for that time loss without the need of tacking on extra days at the end of the year. With the rise of remote learning, it might help ease some of the scheduling burden, and she said it also could alleviate safety concerns.
In the past, García and her administrative team met late at night or early in the morning to determine if weather conditions could safely allow students to go to school. A shift to remote learning on those days could keep students safe at home as well as keep buses off the roads.
“It is very stressful on everybody when you’re trying to decide, ‘Should we come [to school]? Should we not?’ ” García said. “It is very perplexing for families because we have such a wide district. … We have to decide to close for everybody or stay open, and that is tough because the conditions at La Cienega versus Eldorado or Tesuque or even within the city limits can be different.”
Diaz said one thing she noticed from Tuesday’s exercise was that the Monday-Tuesday pod of hybrid-learning students, who get two days of instruction in school per week, transitioned relatively well to remote learning. A downside for those students was the disappointment of not getting a second day in the classroom after waiting until Monday to get their first taste of in-person instruction.
“They had been waiting so long to get back to school,. It was their second day and they still had that honeymoon phase of ‘Oh, I can’t wait to go to school!’ ” Diaz said. “So some of them were like, ‘What?’ [at the news of no in-person instruction] and there was this realization that we might not have snow days.”
One problem was internet connection, as teachers and students reported that connectivity was inconsistent, at best. Michelle Armijo, a third grade teacher at Piñon Elementary School, said she had students who were in and out of sessions because they were knocked offline.
“We’re trying to keep this road as smooth as possible for the kiddos, but their faces are popping in and out and they’re stressed out,” Armijo said. “It’s just another roadblock to tackle, and every day we celebrate overcoming it. At the end of the day, we’re like, ‘Look! We made it. We’re superheroes. We’ve overcome yet again.’ ”
Armijo, though, cautioned against the idea of eliminating snow days. She said there is something to be said about giving students a short break and letting them create memories outside of school they can cherish.
One thing she and other teachers at Piñon did was give their students half an hour for a “snow challenge,” in which they went outside to build something from the available snow at home and take pictures of it. They were posted on the school’s online bulletin board for everyone to see.
“I think it’s important for these kids to get their sleds and go play outside, and come in, drink some hot cocoa and watch movies,” Armijo said.