Since schools closed in March, Mary Batres and Karen Garland turned to videos and class Zooms to keep their kindergarten community alive, but one weekly virtual gathering was particularly special.
The idea started soon after in-person classes for Albemarle County Public Schools were canceled March 13.
“We told them to put on their pajamas, get in bed and get their stuffed animal,” said Garland, a kindergarten teacher at Cale Elementary. “They responded and it was just the cutest thing. It seriously brought tears to my eyes.”
The Zoom call started at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. Before the story, the students could say hello and visit with their classmates. Once the students were in their pajamas and had their stuffed animals in hand, Garland and Batres read them a bedtime story.
After the first evening, Garland said they knew they had to keep it going.
“No one wants to hang up,” she said.
Though online schooling in Albemarle County wrapped up last week, Batres and Garland said they are planning to continue the bedtime stories over the summer.
Half of their combined class regularly participated in the bedtime stories, which were recorded and posted on the division’s learning management system for students to watch later. The class had another virtual meeting Friday mornings, when students sang, danced and shared.
“I love teaching because of the kids,” Batres said. “Being able to see them and interact with them has been wonderful.”
For Garland, the video calls were a way to let students know they are loved.
“Even though we can’t be together at school, we can still be together in heart, in love, in friendship,” she said.
The teachers picked the evenings for virtual storytime to help families because kindergartners require more help with the technology.
“Because a lot of the families are so overwhelmed by having to do their job and then taking care of their kids,” Batres said. “… A lot of parents said we can’t handle this during the day. We thought, why not do bedtime stories? If parents want to join, they can, but it also gives them a 30- to 45-minute break at the end of the day where they can get stuff done that they need to do.”
Garland and Batres teach a Spanish-language immersion class, so the evening book was read in both languages.
“Karen reads a page in English and shows the picture,” Batres said. “Then I’d read the next page in Spanish, and we flip-flop like that.”
During the week, both recorded videos of themselves teaching lessons and suggesting non-technology activities for students, such as going for a nature walk or tying their shoes.
“We read ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ and they had to make their bed and write a letter to Goldilocks,” Batres said.
All of Batres’ videos are in Spanish, but that can’t replace conversing in Spanish, which is a big part of learning the language in kindergarten, she said.
“A lot of the families do speak Spanish but some of them don’t,” Batres said. “The Zoom meetings have been great because that way they can really hear the Spanish from me face-to-face and communicate back in Spanish.”
The weekly calls and other videos helped the teachers and students cope with the abrupt end to in-person school. Typically, Garland and Batres ready students for summer vacation so they can be prepared for not seeing their friends every day.
“They had to put a halt to their friendships, a halt to what was normal to them, what was routine to them,” Garland said.
Batres and Garland said they, too, were devastated when they heard in-person school was canceled but they kept going as best they can.
“We’re trying to keep some little bit of normalcy, which keeps us sane, as well as the kids,” Batres said.