Keeping Students Connected Thru COVID19 Closures Pt. 1

Hi everyone!

Our entire state (PA) has closed all schools in response to COVID-19. I’m fortunate that our district has just actually closed, and we are not being asked to continue instruction during this time. Thank goodness, because of equity issues and special education accommodations, I truly don’t know how any district expects that to be a realistic option, especially on short notice.

As we closed, I’ve been putting most of my focus on how to keep students feeling connected, positive, and engaged during this time of social distancing. I know my students, and most of them are HIGHLY social creatures. They are used to spending at least 7 hours every weekday with groups of people. I know that a lot of people think today’s students are already very isolated from each other because of technology, but I would argue the opposite. What I see in schools each day is a very high amount of social interaction. So I’ve been worried about what these school closures and social distancing measures might do to their psyche and sense of community. I’ve been particularly worried for the students who may not have stable or supportive home lives, for students who don’t have large friend groups, and other vulnerable students who might otherwise rely VERY heavily upon school to get most of their social contact and interactions.

So I’ve been trying to figure out what I can do to ensure the library continues to act as a social gathering place, a place of community, a place of shared experience, a place of inspiration and positive messaging and useful information and resources. Only digitally, instead of physically. Here’s what I’ve come up with and how its going!

** Please be aware that this post is not about meeting student’s academic needs. My priority right now is in continuing to build community and social connection, and with facilitating access to resources students might find helpful in keeping busy and positive. So you won’t find much help in this post regarding instructional resources.


Bedtime Stories Every Night

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Me recording my first Bed Time StoryTime Live

Okay the first thing I’ve come up with is that I will do a “Bedtime Storytime” every night at 9pm EST on our library’s instagram (@gvhslibrary). I polled the students to see if they would like this, and we got over 160 votes for “yes” and only a handful of “no.”

So I found a website called Story Weaver, which has open source creative commons kids books which allow for reuse across any medium. Meaning by using these stories, I am not breaking anyone’s copyright.

How the Bedtime Storytime works:

At a couple minutes before 9pm, I started the Instagram Stories Live broadcast, and while people started to join in I just chatted a little bit about what I’d be doing during the broadcast and why.

After introductions were done, I kind of laid out the reason for doing this, basically to let them know I miss them and that I’d like to provide the Storytimes as a way of encouraging us to still “meetup” with each other each day or so to check in and to connect.

Next I read a 5ish minute bedtime story called “Goodnight Tinku” from the Story Weaver website. I tried to make it funny and engaging and dorky.

After that I talked for a minute about why I chose that story (it’s about how even when we are lonely, we are not always alone.)

Then I answered some comments and chatted a bit, told them what kind of things I did on my first day of school closures.

Finally I ended with a poem from Lin Manuel Miranda’s book: “G’morning, G’night: Little pep talks for me and you.”

What I’ll change next time:

One thing I learned from my first bed time story time was that a lot more people joined than I expected, and they were much more active in the comments than I expected. So going forward I am going to make sure I interact with the audience more, by greeting them as they join and by answering as many comments as I can.

I’ll make it longer, as I was a bit nervous and I think I rushed the whole thing a bit. Next time I’ll be more patient and let it go on longer if it seems like they want it to. Looking back, I wish I had asked them to interact more and really get some good conversations going. So that’s what I’ll focus on going forward.

I’m going to stimulate more sharing and conversation by asking students to share what kind of things they did (while practicing social distancing) so hopefully students who are bored or lonely will get some good ideas of things they too might do to fill the time. Book recommendations, tv shows to binge, recipes to try, games to play, etc.

I’m also going to try to include a book recommendation each night! Might add trivia, jokes, riddles, etc if the kids want. Someone asked for ghost stories last night, so I’m looking into that. I’m also reaching out to different authors and publishers to get info on if they’ll let me share some of their intellectual property.

Unexpected awesomeness:

One unexpected bit of awesomeness that came from this is that not only did the students talk to me via the comments, I saw them chatting with each other! And not just kids in the same friend groups. No, I saw students across grade levels and friend groups chatting with , commiserating with, and motivating each other. Pure awesomeness.

Feedback:

After the Live ended, I put a poll up on the Instagram Stories to see if the kids liked the Bedtime Storytime and if they wanted me to continue to do it each night.

Feedback was overwhelmingly in the affirmative.

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poll results
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And so, I will! I will do this each night until it seems like no one watches it anymore. There was small part of me that thought, oh my gosh am I committing to doing this EVERY night at 9pm? But you know what, I’m not working and I can commit to a half hour each day for my students. And you know what else, I too will start feeling pretty isolated soon, so I expect this will be good for me as well as them.

Its about community. And COVID-19 can close our schools, but it cannot steal our sense of community and connection. Not if we refuse to let it. Let’s embrace the gift of technology to keep these social ties strong.

And if you are feeling a bit isolated too, feel free to join in at 9pm EST on my Instagram Live @gvhslibrary! In our first session, over 150 people (students, parents, & other educators) joined in. Hope to see you there!

I will post again in a day or so about part 2 of what I’m doing to keep building community and social connection during the corona-closures! Stay tuned!

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