LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Lots of children had fun the last couple days, playing outside. But many of them still had work to do.
This was the first year of a new system that allowed teachers to assign homework during snow days.
Selected districts gave their students homework packets to satisfy requirements for Alternative Methods of Instruction (AMI). The packets could contain as much as five days’ worth of material.
“They gave me about the same amount we would do in class,” said Zaylin Rowland, a fifth-grader at Mablevale Elementary School. “It was a Day One and a Day Two, so, like, if we only stayed out of school for one day, we only had to do Day One of our packet. And I had one for math, one for reading, and one for science, social studies, and so on.”
The goal of the AMI is to prevent adding makeup days to the end of the school year, and that is dependent on the number of students who turn in completed homework packets. This was the first time that schools in central Arkansas used their AMI plans.
“Overall, from the reports I’ve gotten from around the state, it’s gone well,” said Cathy Koehler, president of the Arkansas Education Association. “I think that there have been some glitches, and I don’t think that’s unusual any time you start something new.”
Koehler said she started talking to her group members' teachers several weeks ago, encouraging them to ask their principals about their schools’ procedures.
Students could log into a school network to receive their homework packets, or they could bring home printed versions. “So, my own grandson, he’s had his packet since the middle of December,” Koehler stated. “It’s been at our house, and so has was very easy, we already had the information.”
She added that some families struggled with what to do with that information.
“I talked to one parent Tuesday who was very frustrated because they spent an inordinate amount of time doing work,” she said. “And when I talked them through it and they looked, they didn’t realize that they had done all five days of the work, rather than one day’s work.”
Some parents reported that their students received too much work, or that it was so difficult the parents were not able to help them with it. Koehler said teachers made themselves available online or by phone. But she added that communication was not perfect in some locations.
“In certain parts of our state it’s still - even though everyone does have internet access - it’s not as strong in some parts as it is in others.”
One benefit that Koehler pointed out is that AMI gave many parents educational bonding time that they do not normally receive. She said many teachers gave their students creative assignments.
She gave examples of teachers who asked their students to take measurements of the snow, and others who wanted them to search the snow for paw prints, and then to explain which animal they believed created the prints.
Rowland and his friends said they all preferred the AMI work to having the day entirely off “because it’ll only take you about, like, 45 minutes and then you’ll have the rest of the day off, instead of going to school and doing all those days.”
The Arkansas state legislature gave school districts the option to allow AMI days, and Koehler said roughly half of them do. She predicted that more will consider it in the future.
“Learning occurs 12 months a year, every day, in some form. This is a way to acknowledge, and to give families and educators, the opportunity to use a snow day, have a learning that you can actually track, and at the same time, give students an opportunity to learn about something different, new, and engaging,” she said.