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Education

Many St. Louis-area districts move online as winter storm closes schools

Piper Feldpausch raises her hand during her virtual first grade class on Thurs., Feb. 3, 2022. Piper's school district, Ritenour, is one of many that held classes online rather than taking a traditional snow day.
Rhonda Feldpausch
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Piper Feldpausch raises her hand during her virtual first grade class on Thursday. Piper's school district, Ritenour, is one of many that held classes online rather than taking a traditional snow day.

Updated at 5:10 p.m. Feb. 3 with information on St. Louis Public Schools’ snow day plans

The first major snowfall of the year sent some St. Louis teachers and students back to virtual school this week.

In an online classroom on Thursday, first graders in the Ritenour School District ran through all the number combinations they could think of that add up to 10.

Fidgeting first graders popped in and out of the virtual backgrounds they had chosen, including two matching magical wooded scenes and what looked like the ocean floor from Spongebob Squarepants. Their teacher, Kristina Erby-Carr, played songs to keep her class engaged.

Ritenour was one of nearly a dozen school districts that went online as a powerful winter storm blustered through the St. Louis area. Many more districts chose to take traditional snow days, but those that transitioned to online learning logged on for at least part of Wednesday and Thursday.

A Missouri state rule only allows school districts to use about five days of virtual instruction. Some are already nearing that limit, between snow days and a recent wave of staff absences due to COVID-19.

Piper Feldpausch had an easier time with this round of virtual learning compared to last year, said her mother, Rhonda Feldpausch. This year, the Ritenour first grader knew her teacher and her classmates.

“Last year was more clumsy because it was the start of the school year on virtual,” Feldpausch said. “They were kindergartners, so they're not really used to being in school anyway, and then to throw them in front of a computer where most of them don't even know how to work it, it was a little confusing last year.”

Erby-Carr also thought this week’s classes were smoother than last year's — but it’s taken some practice to get there. She has been working with her students to learn to use the virtual systems.

Teacher Kristina Erby-Carr leads her first grade students through a game in virtual school on Thurs., Feb. 3, 2022. The Ritenour School District held online class during the winter storm.
Kate Grumke
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St. Louis Public Radio
Teacher Kristina Erby-Carr leads her first grade students through a game in virtual school on Thursday. The Ritenour School District held online class during the winter storm.

“We were able to build the relationship and we also had a lot of procedures and routines already in place where we use the computer,” Erby-Carr said. “I didn't have many parents helping my kids this year, like they helped last year, so the kids were able to be on there pretty much independently.”

In the Mehlville School District, kindergarten students showed off their favorite stuffed animals during their first virtual K-12 experience this week. The district has announced plans to continue virtual instruction through Friday.

School officials decided to have online classes instead of a snow day after hearing that parents and staff preferred having a predictable end to the school year, said Brian Smith, Mehlville’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.

“Administrators, teachers, community members, parents, they overwhelmingly had indicated that trying to wrap up the school year by Memorial Day was kind of an important thing to them,” Smith said.

St. Louis Public Schools also shifted to virtual learning on Wednesday and Thursday, but the district will take a traditional snow day on Friday. Ashland Elementary School in the city's Penrose neighborhood is near the state limit for virtual instruction, while Bryan Hill Elementary School in College Hill reached the limit Thursday.

Virtual instruction schedules also look different than a typical school day. In the Mehlville School District, students are finished with class by midday. In Ritenour, students had a long break in the middle of the day.

When her students came back from lunch, Erby-Carr played music and showed photos and videos her students had sent her of their snow adventures during the break. One student said she tried to build a snowman, but so far the snow isn’t sticking enough.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @Kate Grumke

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