In the wake of the slew of natural disasters that hit the East Coast this past week, an article in today’s Edweek announced:

Hurricane Irene swept ashore with less ferocity than feared, but widespread power outages, downed trees, and the continuing danger of flooding still kept students out of school in dozens of districts along the Eastern Seaboard and in New England—and for some extended the summer break.

Despite the minimal damage caused by Hurricane Irene, a majority of children on the East Coast are most likely playing video games or watching TV right now. But does a natural disaster have to mean yet another holiday for children? And what if the after effects of the hurricane had been such that children couldn’t attend school for a month? What would a month break mean for their education?

With today’s technology, children can continue to learn from the safety of their own homes when natural disasters strike. This became apparent in October 2009, when James Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement for the U.S. Department of Education, conducted an emergency drill at VOISE Academy High School in Chicago, Ill., to see how educational technology and online curriculum materials could keep children on task during a school closure. On the day of the drill, 10th-graders followed a regular bell schedule and attended all of their classes just as they would on a regular day—only virtually from their homes. Their teachers conducted classes remotely over the Internet and kept in touch with students via video chats enabled by Webcams or e-mail programs. Using multiple forms of educational technology, the teachers found ways to engage their students despite being physically distant from them. One teacher used an interactive whiteboard to share classroom materials with students at home, while a Spanish teacher assigned students to use digital recorders to record phrases and statements in Spanish and e-mail them to her. Although teachers found it challenging to facilitate class at a distance, students purportedly enjoyed the experience. The school reported 93 percent attendance among 10th graders on the day of the drill, and some students were so excited about the exercise that they asked if they could learn virtually from their homes once a week.

Online learning is a great solution to continuing our children’s education when natural disasters prevent children from physically attending school. If all U.S. schools were to set up an online program such as the one piloted at VOISE Academy High School, then there certainly wouldn’t be as many children sitting at home today playing video games or watching TV, for one thing.

What is your school doing to prepare for its students’ continuity of learning in the event that a natural disaster prevented children from physically attending school?



  • Katherine Mackey
    Katherine Mackey