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U.S. schools are getting rid of snow days — with Google's help

When most people were in school, snow days meant that you essentially received a surprise holiday from mother nature.

These days, schools are moving to replace snow days and other extreme weather off days with online learning — and they’re using Google (GOOGL) to do it.

‘We feel good about where we are’

During inclement weather, all students at Anderson School District 5 in South Carolina now receive assignments electronically through their Google Chromebook, which will not require internet service. The Chromebooks are provided to students by the district at no cost. 

The district’s first “eLearning Day” was on Oct. 11, when schools were closed because of Hurricane Michael. Pictures of teachers and students doing schoolwork from home circulated on Twitter, using the hashtag #a5elearning. Overall, the initiative involves dozens of schools in five South Carolina school districts.

According to Anna Baldwin, the director of eLearning and integration for Anderson School District 5, the first eLearning Day went off without a hitch.

“We feel good about where we are and where we’re going with the program moving forward,” she told Yahoo Finance.

Baldwin stated that the district has received “lots of positive feedback,” ranging from teachers, students, parents, and even the overall community.

A winter storm dumped ice and snow on Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. The new initiative replaces snow days with eLearning days. (Matthew Fortner/Staff)

“We tried very hard to communicate to students, faculty, and the community at large what we envision the device to do in the classroom, and we still have work to do there,” she said. “Teachers and students have said how it helps them stay focused and get work done. Some students feel more organized because they know where to find everything.”

Teachers have expressed similar sentiments, and Baldwin sees the Chromebook as “just another tool” to deliver instruction to a student based on individual needs.

“It allows a teacher to focus on every child in the classroom and be able to push out instructions for the child, based on where they are in their learning journey,” she explained. “In that respect, it’s really helped out with keeping students on track and engaged in different areas.”

The eLearning program has been in the testing phase since 2014 in other states like Ohio, Illinois, West Virginia, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.

‘Leveraging Chromebooks for eLearning on snow days is yet another example …’

Google’s reach into schools has been a progressive build-up. The tech giant has been increasing its presence in classrooms in the U.S., reaching out to educators and administrators directly with their products.  

“Chromebooks have the ability to make education more immersive, access to information infinite and turn any environment into a learning environment,” Naveen Viswanatha, product lead for Chromebooks & content for education at Google, told Yahoo Finance in a statement.

Seth Erdman, center, and his fellow students use Chromebooks while working on a lesson in a third grade class on Friday, Jan. 16, 2015, at Walden Elementary School in Deerfield, Ill. (Photo: Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Apart from the Chromebook, teachers can also use Google’s learning management system to provide lessons, resources, and support.

“We’ve heard about students using Chromebooks and G Suite for Education video conferencing and tools to chat and collaborate on school work, and even to participate in class when home sick,” said Viswanatha.

“Leveraging Chromebooks for eLearning on snow days is yet another example of how the flexibility and mobility are enabling new opportunities for educators and students to connect outside of the walls of the classroom.”

Google has been gaining market share in the education technology space so fast that it has even outmaneuvered Apple and Microsoft — partly because the Chromebook is a low-cost alternative to more expensive products.

In the first half of this year, Chrome OS represents 60% of the PCs and tablets used by students in the U.S. from K-12,  according to IDC Research Director Linn Huang.

A ‘good model’ for schools

District 5 Superintendent Tom Wilson said that apart from eliminating an unexpected break from school, the Google-fueled eLearning program will also reduce the need to run buses in mid-June for makeup days that only a quarter of the students attend. The eLearning days will count towards the 180 days required by the state.

Students work on a math equation using Chromebooks at Milton High School. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

South Carolina has invested $11 million in Chromebooks in the last 5 years. It was Wilson who came up with the idea of bringing eLearning into the Anderson School District. 

Baldwin, District 5’s director of eLearning, explained that the district settled on Chromebooks after doing extensive research into what came with it.

“It was the best device to utilize,” she said. “It’s economical, easy to use, and not a lot of damage can be done that would happen with a laptop.”

Nevertheless, others aren’t convinced snow days should be removed by technology.

“Growing up in New Jersey, we used to get snow days, it was fantastic,” Tech Editor Dan Howley said on Yahoo Finance’s Midday Movers (video above). “Now you’re gonna lock kids up when it’s snowing outside so stay inside and go online? … I think it’s ridiculous.”

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