Berkeley County's newest schools (copy)

Weston Mumford and Mary Jane Taylor use a Chromebook on Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, to work on math in Ashley Austin's third-grade class at Berkeley County's Philip Simmons Elementary School. Students will use the Chromebooks for remote inclement-weather makeup days. File/Staff 

Friday will be Berkeley County's first official school day where students won't actually go to school.

Berkeley County School District was one of 10 districts selected this year to participate in the second phase of a S.C. Education Oversight Committee eLearning pilot, a new program designed to allow students remotely make up days missed because of severe weather.

While teachers will head to school for a workday Friday, students will stay home and complete assignments virtually from their district-issued Chromebooks. The day will count as a school day, a make-up for a day lost when Hurricane Dorian brushed South Carolina's coast last month.

Most students have access to a Chromebook, said district spokesman Brian Troutman. Traditional assignments will be sent home with students without Chromebooks or internet access at home.

Teachers will send out their online assignments via Google Classroom or Seesaw by 7 a.m. Friday, said Courtney Blue, an instructional coach at Bowen’s Corner Elementary.

Cameron Coefield, a fifth-grader at Bowen’s Corner, said he’s looking forward to the online learning day.

“I think it will be good for us because it's a way for teachers to plan and for us kids to relax and do our work at home,” he said.

He’s especially excited to sleep in and wear his pajamas all day.

Students technically have three extra days to to complete and submit all of their assigned work. They may goof off all day Friday, but if their assignments aren't done by Oct. 31, they will be marked absent for the school day. 

The eLearning day is designed to consist of 200 total minutes of assignments, Blue said. 

Some online assignments will include what the district calls “choice boards,” or personalized learning options.

“Choice boards are like a way to give students ownership in what kind of assignments they will be doing,” Blue said.

For example, students may have the option to create an online book, make a virtual informative poster using graphic design tools or make a short movie as part of their assignments on Friday.

“I feel like we’ve definitely been able to personalize learning for kids,” said Sloane Chinners, the district’s innovative learning coordinator. “We’re able to empower the kids to really know themselves as learners and take advantage of these creation tools.”

At Bowen’s Corner, teachers will host office hours from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on the eLearning day. During this time, parents can call, email or message teachers via Google Classroom if they have any questions about the assignments. Office hours will vary depending on the school and can be found on each school’s website.

The district will also host a technology help desk to offer technical support to students during the eLearning day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students can access this help desk by launching the shortcut from their Chromebooks.

Since eLearning is a new thing, some have been confused about how it will work.

"We've gotten feedback from some parents indicating there’s a lack of understanding of what an eLearning day actually is,” Troutman said.

“This day was a previously scheduled teacher workday, during which students were already going to be at home. We’re trying our best through this eLearning pilot to make the most of that teacher workday and preserve the value in that day for teachers while also providing the opportunity to our students to make up the day in a way that does not disrupt our instructional calendar,” Troutman said.

State law mandates that all school districts incorporate at least three makeup days in their annual calendar. These makeup days can often coincide with scheduled teacher workdays — days that teachers say are essential for to plan lessons, collaborate with other teachers or host conferences with parents.

Blue said she hadn’t had a full teacher workday since she came to the district seven years ago. 

“Almost every year in recent history, we’ve had to swallow those teacher workdays as inclement weather days,” Troutman said.

Improved working conditions, such as adequate teacher workdays, were part of the education reform conversations when 10,000 South Carolina gathered at the Statehouse in May. 

The district has two other eLearning days this school year scheduled for March 13 and April 10 that will also be used as inclement weather makeup days.

In addition to Berkeley County, nine other districts were selected to join the program this year: Anderson 1, Anderson 2, Anderson 3, Florence 1, Georgetown, Lexington 2, Lexington 3, York 2, and York 3.

The state Education Oversight Committee will provide recommendations for how the program can be implemented statewide by June 1 to the governor, the General Assembly, the Department of Education and to the State Board of Education.

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Contact Jenna Schiferl at 843-937-5764. Follow her on Twitter at @jennaschif. 

Jenna Schiferl is a Columbia native and a reporter at The Post and Courier. She has previously worked as an editor at Garnet & Black Magazine.