Snow Days Just Aren’t What They Used to Be
Internet keeps diocesan students, teachers connected despite weather
By Sharon Boehlefeld, Features Editor
February 7, 2019
ROCKFORD—Back when parents used to walk uphill both ways to school, snow days meant fun.
 
But in several Rockford Diocese Catholic schools, it just means working in a different way.
 
In some cases, paper packets went home with children ahead of the polar vortex cold front last week. But for many students from the Fox to the Mississippi, the tool of the day was the internet.
 
“This is the first year Illinois schools can use this,” said Elizabeth Heitkamp, assistant diocesan superintendent for Catholic schools.
 
The change has to do with the way the state counts attendance in the school funding formula. While it used to be based on students-in-seats, it is now measured based on instructional hours.
 
While the requirement doesn’t really apply to Catholic schools, Heitkamp says most use the state guidelines for  developing their own school calendars.
 
Among schools using the internet for “snow day” assignments is Boylan Central Catholic High School in Rockford.
 
A school-issued Chromebook laptop and text books are the necessary tools for what Boylan calls an “E-Learning Day.”
 
Students at the high school were required to complete assignments at home on Jan. 30 and  31. Boylan students received assignments from their teachers between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day on the software system Moodle. They were to be completed at home and then turned in by Feb 1. 
 
“Initial feedback on our e-learning pilot phase was very positive, and we hope to see the program continue,” said Chris Rozanski, Boylan principal. “We are gathering input from our students, teachers, and parents and will refine the program with the goal of making it even more successful in the future.”
 
“I understand why we have these E-Learning Day assignments,” said Cara Conner, a Boylan student. “One thing that I would like to see done differently next school year is I would like to know all the assignments on the first day, so I can work ahead, instead of having to wait until the next day to get additional homework,” she added.
 
Students at Holy Family  School in Rockford also had assignments during the extreme cold weather on Jan. 30 and 31. 
 
Lower grade students were given two packets of assignments on Jan. 29 that were to be completed and handed in upon returning to school.
 
Junior high students had homework assigned through the SchoolSpeak website that was due on Feb 1.
 
Most of the schools in the Rockford Deanery relied on some form of snow day assignments, said Heitkamp. Additionally, some Aurora Deanery schools also had online or paper assignments for their students last week.
 
“Aurora Central (Catholic High School) will have make-up days,” she said, adding with a smile, “Father (William) Etheredge likes to see the students.”
 
Father Etheredge is the superintendent and principal at ACC. 
 
Paul Mayer, assistant principal, confirmed that ACC students will be making up the “snow days” this year. But the school is looking at online learning options and may have them in place for next year.
 
At St. Mary School in East Dubuque on the Mississipppi, Principal Angi Jones kept in touch with students on Facebook during the cold weather issuing daily challenges. 
 
On Jan. 29 she posted, “I challenge every St. Mary student to read (or be read to) for their age times five (minutes). ... If 50 students send me an email (or post on here) stating that they have done it, I will dye my hair blue for the end of Catholic Schools Week!”
 
On Jan. 31, Jones announced her hair would be blue for the next four to six weeks.
 
— Lynne Conner and Bridget Jennison contributed to this story