Librarian, Art Teacher Hope To Give Students Storytime—and Stability—Over Summer

Oklahoma educators Heather Cory and Becky Smith hope to stay connected with their elementary school kids in person and with a YouTube channel.
Last summer, library media specialist Heather Cory went to the public library nearest her school, but she didn’t see any of her Midwest City (OK) Elementary School students. She then drove past her school and the adjacent park, which are within walking distance for many of the kids. She found them at the Splash Pad, a park water play area. With less than a month to go in her school year, Cory has been thinking about how to get to the students during the summer and provide them with storytime—and a little adult stability.

Library media specialist Heather Cory (left) and art teacher Becky Smith

“The reality is that we work in a lower-income area, these kids are either going to be alone or maybe with an older sibling,” says Cory. “We could have a fifth grader who is taking care of six siblings or cousins and [the fifth grader is] the adult. There’s no one who is really going to be reading to them. So I felt that especially over the summer, this would be important, because we provide a lot of stability for these kids.” Cory decided to volunteer a few days throughout the summer and go to the water play area to read to the kids. “I want to go to where they are,” she says. No matter how many times she tells them to go to the public library and take part in its summer reading program, she knows it’s not realistic to think that will happen. “I wish they were going to be at the library,” she says. “Honestly, I would prefer it, because I don’t like being outside. I hate being outside. That’s how much I love these kids. I’m going to where they’re going to be. So while I push, ‘You need to go to the public library,’ I’m coming to them. They need someone mobile. We have a great library system, but there’s not a lot of mobility.” On a recent day during lunch, Cory mentioned her Splash Pad storytime idea to colleagues. Art teacher Becky Smith revealed that she also had been thinking about a way to bring reading aloud to students and keep that connection with them over the summer. In January, she asked kids in her art class to draw something that represents themselves and over and over again, they drew the their favorite YouTuber’s channel icon. “I had been toying around with the idea in my head for months now,” says Smith. "Why can’t we have something where we can read books on YouTube and become one of their favorite YouTubers and YouTube channels?” It's her way to go where the kids are when they aren't in school. “If they’re going to do this whole YouTube thing, why can’t we be one of their channels where they go and hear a story before they go to bed?” she says. During, many of these kids aren’t getting read to at home and miss the consistency of the adults they see during the school year, these educators say. Cory and Smith want to make it clear that they are not saying anything negative about their school or students. They love both, they say. “These are amazing kids, but we’re trying to get them to keep that child heart,” says Smith. “They’ll go home and have so much responsibility. … So I thought if we could do something, anything, over the summer...” Cory and Smith realized if they combined their ideas, “this could be something,” says Smith. “If somehow the kid can’t get to the Splash Pad, the YouTube will help them stay connected,” Smith says. Smith admits her part of her motivation was a little bit selfish after listening to the students excitedly discuss every detail about their favorite YouTubers. “I want them to want to know us, too," she says. "We spend so much effort trying to get them to pay attention to the things we have to offer here. We have cool stuff. I’m jealous. They say, ‘Oh my YouTuber friend, I love him.’ I want to be loved.” The two went to their principal for her support, and then approached district administration to ask if they could use their names and the name of the school in the videos and were given permission. Now they are trying to make—and get going on—a real plan. Copyright issues leave them with only a list of public domain books to choose from for the readalouds. The selections might not be the books kids would typically request, but they are classics: Peter Pan, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Secret Garden, and Treasure Island are among them. The readers could also re-imagine fairy tales and folk stories, too. Smith envisions the video being a close-up of the book, so kids can follow along as she reads.She wants them to hear her voice, not necessarily see her. Cory wants kids to see her face while she is reading, or whatever else she decides to do. She might mix up the stories with cheesy jokes, projects, and “Mrs. Cory’s Confessions”—anything to keep the students coming back to the channel to see what’s next. They both hope that other teachers at their school will be willing to jump in and record some reading too, give the students some story options. “They can turn us on with their little iPod and listen to a book from one of their beloved teachers and go to bed,” says Smith. They may even inspire some students to read on their own, but that’s not the most important part of the plan. “As teachers, we should probably [say], 'This is about literacy, we don’t want them to lose any skills,’” says Cory. “But my goal is to be there for my kids and to give them a fun time. … When it comes down to it, I just want them to have a piece of us, so that they don’t feel so alone in the summer.”
UPDATE: The YouTube channel is set up, and it's going to have more than teachers reading. Author Kathleen Burkinshaw (The Last Cherry Blossom) reached out to Cory and Smith to offer to donate time to read on the channel, too.

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