WDC's 5 e-learning days have kept school's calendar unchanged

An e-learning day is two to three hours of “active learning,” as defined in the WDC plan. While these days offer online lessons and a consistent school schedule, Superintendent Lee Westrum said the days are not the same as in-person learning.

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With spring sports now at hand, staff at Wadena-Deer Creek School looked to blow old man winter out of the way Friday, March 11, on the softball diamonds west of the middle/high school.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

WADENA — The option of e-learning has helped Wadena-Deer Creek schools in this year’s frustrating winter.

An e-learning day is two to three hours of “active learning,” as defined in the WDC plan. While these days offer online lessons and a consistent school schedule, Superintendent Lee Westrum said the days are not the same as in-person learning.

Districts implemented virtual learning in the 2020-21 school year and created e-learning plans for the 2021-22 school year. Each district’s plans were shared with staff and parents prior to the winter season.

For five school days this year, winter weather events have led to e-learning days at WDC. Districts are allowed five e-learning days according to state statute. In February, the blustery days ran close together with WDC having e-learning days on Feb. 11, 18 and 22. The other two e-learning days were Dec. 16 and Jan. 14.

This winter caused districts to make different decisions on e-learning, late starts, early releases and snow days. With strong winds and a blizzard warning on Feb. 18 , Westrum said he is “very thankful” they called an e-learning day the night before. Neighboring districts had an early release in the afternoon when the wind kicked up at its worst.


“I planned on doing it (e-learning days) all along just because with COVID I felt like we were equipped to do it. That we had the technology in place to send something home with every kid, and our teachers they’d all been through the drill with teaching at home,” Westrum said. “I just thought there’s no better time than now to do this.”

Chad Frost, co-owner of Smith Furniture in Wadena uses a power brush to clear snow from in front of the business Monday morning. Smith Furniture did not plan to open to foot traffic as road conditions were poor and sidewalks, for the most part, had over 20 inches of snow piled up. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Though, Westrum didn’t expect to use all five days when winter started. The Farmer’s Almanac says this winter is “a season of flip-flop conditions with notable polar coaster swings in temperatures.” Throughout January and February, the National Weather Service issued numerous winter weather advisories for wind, cold and blowing snow. The blustery conditions have generally caused travel difficulties across the state and also closed state highways in Wadena and Todd counties on Feb. 11.

This meteorologist considers the winter of 1996-97 to have been the worst.

Although snow days seem to have disappeared into the wind, the remaining winter weather days would cancel school this year. The days can be made up on scheduled days or at the end of the school year. Since the district has 173 student contact days, the school board could decide that any canceled school days do not have to be made up. The state requires 165 student contact days.

Westrum said the board will have “flexibility” in their decision. Without the e-learning days, the snow days would have to be made up on scheduled days off or at the end of the school year.

“I think the biggest positive is that we’ve been able to keep our … school calendar intact so far,” Westrum said. “Now we can’t anymore because we’re out of days, we’ve used five.”

While area districts did not move as quickly to e-learning days, Bertha-Hewitt, Menahga and Perham have used e-learning days. Westrum added it was also easier to have an e-learning day instead of teetering on a two-hour late start or early release, especially if students would not receive lunch.

Students use Seesaw and Google Classroom on e-learning days. Lessons are posted by 9:30 a.m. with staff available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. over email or phone. Westrum said the assignments differ by grade level and what classes students are in. Students have one week to complete their assignments, according to the plan.


“I want them to have enough so … that they get something out of it but I don’t want them to feel overwhelmed because sometimes a lot of them don’t have support right there either,” Westrum said. “Our teachers are available, they can email and call and … get a hold of them but it’s still not the same as being there in-person.”

Students have an extra step to connect rather than being able to ask teachers questions by raising their hand or sharing a confused look with their classmates. Westrum said students might decide to ask their teacher another day but “by then it might not even get addressed at all.”

WDC e-learning days 2021-22

E-learning plan

Board approval of plan

Dec. 16 e-learning day

Jan. 14 e-learning day

Feb. 11 e-learning day

Feb. 18 e-learning day

Feb. 22 e-learning day

With child care challenges and keeping up with the changes, parents have responded positively overall. Westrum said each student experience is different with the assignments and amount of time engaged. The district plans to send out a survey to parents and staff to learn what ways the district can do better and create consistency across the grades.

“I would guess that on the whole, though, the e-learning days would help staff morale,” said Barb Tumberg, school board member, during the meeting on Feb. 23. “That’s important to consider given what our staff has been through the last couple of years.” Union representative and choral director Mike Ortmann and Westrum noted staff support of the e-learning days.

When the weather hovers in difficult predictions, Westrum tries to email teachers by noon the previous day to prepare students and staff for the possible changes. Students from kindergarten to 12th grade each have an iPad or Chromebook to use regularly and take home. Students can also check out internet hotspots.

With in-person learning, students also learn about handling different situations and emotions as they interact with their peers. Westrum said the variety of experiences are important in helping students learn.

“It’s social training, a lot of it is, and our kids really, really need that,” Westrum said about the life skills students learn at school.

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A fifth grade student shares their presentation on a Native American tribe over Zoom. Dana Cantleberry/WDC Schools

While the number of next winter's e-learning days are unknown, Westrum said staff are prepared due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic required distance learning for students and staff, and lots of Zoom meetings and virtual communication. While adults jumped into Zoom without training, Westrum said students have the opportunity to receive technology training.


One kindergarten teacher shared her recent Zoom experience with students, such as having etiquette lessons and students discovering how to mute themselves and see who the other students are online.

“We had kids that were starting to figure out how to navigate Zoom,” Westrum said. “I don’t know how much we learned about reading but that’s certainly learning, and it’s (technology) the world that we’re living in now.”

Technology also means students don’t have the “natural skill” of making phone calls or having to connect with someone to figure out a problem, as Westrum noted. Students are ready for the technology, though, from answering emails professionally to researching school papers and learning from their teachers through videos.

The technology offerings in the classroom and at home create new learning opportunities and prepare students for any future online classes.

“We also have learned that too much of it (technology) is not good either. Students need to be in classrooms with teachers and they need to be interacting with their peers, and for the good and the bad,” Westrum said. “They need to experience all of it, they need the good and the bad that comes with being in a class, and having friends and peer groups because those are life skills."

Rebecca Mitchell started as a Digital Content Producer for the Post Bulletin in August 2022. She specializes in enhancing online articles as well as education, feature and health reporting.
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