Guilfoyle to start virtual school days

Technology will make snow days obsolete at a Blair County high school.

Starting next school year, Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School is going to have “virtual education days” instead of snow days. Because each BG student has an iPad funded through the school’s donors, Bishop Guilfoyle is able to hold school when weather forces school cancellations.

As a result of virtual education days, the school will be able to maintain the number of education days required by law without having to add days in June because of school cancellations.

Like entering a classroom, students will sign in on their iPad for each of their eight classes for a virtual education day. Teachers take attendance as they normally would, too. There will be a lesson plan, PowerPoint presentations and possibly homework. And each teacher has a discussion board for communication with students.

Principal Joan Donnelly said virtual days will serve to maintain “continuity of instruction.”

“The biggest thing about the virtual days is you can eliminate the break in education,” she said.

Advanced placement tests take place in May, regardless of school cancellations.

Science teacher Tori Byrne welcomes the advent of virtual days, especially after a winter in which more than a week of school was canceled because of weather.

“I’m really excited about it. All the snow days we had really disrupted the flow of the classroom. You have to keep reviewing because of missing so much and they don’t remember. So with this, we will be right on track,” she said.

Teachers will be able to assign articles for students to read and through Google Drive, students can have discussions with each other and with teachers during the virtual day.

“And I think it will be really good for students who are quiet in the classroom because they will have time to think and process what they say [in online discussion boards] without being nervous with the other students around,” Byrne said. “So I think we’ll get more out of them on those days. Statistics say that exactly: There will be more engagement on those virtual days.”

By replacing snow days with virtual days, Bishop Guilfoyle is following the lead of other private schools including St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy in State College.

However, the idea of virtual days isn’t popular with all schools.

“Bricks and mortar is what we do,” Spring Cove Superintendent Robert Vadella said.

Spring Cove School District provides Chromebooks to students in grades 6-12.

“Maybe it would be possible to look at (virtual days) for the high school. But our policy is that we don’t want to sacrifice teacher-student contact time if there are alternatives,” he said.

The district is ending the school year on June 13 because of school cancellations.

“The district would like to end school within the first week of June as planned, but with nine school cancellations this year, that’s just not doable,” Vadella said. “However, substituting bricks and mortar for cyber education when winter weather hits is not favorable.”

To Bishop Guilfoyle administrators, it’s about balance.

“We, too, are brick and mortar, and face-to-face time is important, although I think we have a very collegiate atmosphere here.”

Donnelly said students in leadership groups have been made aware of the change.

“Overall, they are in favor of it. Their concern is how much work will they have to do that day.”

Virtual days will require students to adopt a collegiate state of mind, becoming responsible for readings and assignments sent virtually by eight teachers.

If virtual days are a success, more opportunities may open, for example, the possibility for students to have a few virtual days in their schedules regardless of weather.

“What we are committed to are substituting virtual days for cancellations,” Donnelly said. “Beyond that, we will see.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.