Tell me a story: Teachers and students at Menlo Park Academy stay connected through reading

After Ohio schools shut down in March due to COVID-19, Menlo Park Academy social studies teacher Daniel Pernod wanted to stay connected to his students.

He thought about the 15 fifth and sixth graders in his morning advisory group, and how they often participate in service projects to read to the younger children at the K-8 Detroit Shoreway school. The thought transformed into an idea where story time could become a virtual thing.

“Many of the students have really enjoyed participating in programs at the school where they read to lower grades, and the idea started to take shape,” recalls Pernod. “It started as having me read a children's book every day on a live Google Meet, and then evolved into a program where kids could participate too.”

<span class="content-image-text">Fifth grader Auty Mayer read “Curious George at the Aquarium” by H.A. Rey.</span>Fifth grader Auty Mayer read “Curious George at the Aquarium” by H.A. Rey.So, starting last week Mr. Pernod’s advisory group began recording themselves reading story books on video. They record themselves reading a book and then send the videos to Pernod, who uploads them to a private YouTube link.

“The goal is to continue allowing them to be part of the school community through encouraging literacy, even while separated,” Pernod explains. So far, the students have uploaded eight books on the YouTube channel.

Fifth grader Auty Mayer read “Curious George at the Aquarium” by H.A. Rey. He says he likes reading books to younger students, so they know the importance of books and how much fun it is to read. Auty also likes to use different voices while reading to make the book more exciting.

“I find Curious George books fun to read to little kids because his curious mischief always ends up being positive and funny in some way,” Auty says. “I love interacting with little kids so much, so I find it to be another good way to do that during this hard time of quarantining.”

Pernod says the reaction to the recorded books has been positive—both from the reading students and the watching students. He says many of his students have asked how many books they can record, and other teachers report having students interested in participating as well.

“It is a great lesson for kids about the importance of human interaction,” Pernod says.

Additionally, the exercise is a learning tool for all the students involved. “Reading to younger students introduces them to new stories and vocabulary and models behavior from their peers,” explains Pernod. “Unfortunately, many families rely on libraries and their schools for a steady supply of books, and that is not an option right now.”

Menlo fifth grader Edriana Hallis read “How Do Dinosaurs Count to Ten?” by Jane Yolen, which first grader Stella Tonsing selected for viewing. “It was fun to see another kid I see at school read a funny book,” says Stella of Edriana’s reading. “I didn’t know some of those dinosaur names, so I liked her being able to teach me them.”

And kindergartner Weston Cobb and his little brother Elliot watched Menlo art teacher John Cycyk read “Little Red” by Bethan Woollvin. Weston goes to school with Cycyk’s daughter, Ava. Weston was happy to see his classmate in the video, and declares, “I love books!”

Pernod says this method of reading will not replace physical books, or in-person story times, but this program serves as a welcome alternative while the schools are closed.

“I don't think anyone wants to increase their kid's or student's screen time, but this serves as a necessary replacement for the time being,” he says. “My guess is that some families will purchase the physical books we have recorded.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.