SIDNEY – As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, students can’t gather together and listen to a teacher read a story. But cows can.
Nathan Sailor, Fairlawn’s agriculture education teacher and FFA adviser, sat among the dairy cattle on his farm outside of Port Jefferson and read “Little Excavator” by Anna Dewdney. He recorded a video of himself, and the cows, that was uploaded to the Fairlawn Local Schools YouTube page.
“As I was reading, (the cows) were listening to it, too,” Sailor said. “It seems the kids get a kick out of it, just seeing Mr. Sailor somewhere unique.”
Sailor’s reading of “Little Excavator” is one of dozens of videos that have been uploaded to the Fairlawn Local Schools page since it was created last week following Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s order to suspend in-classroom education because of the coronavirus and COVID-19. The school’s staff members read stories, sing songs, recite poetry and provide lessons for students in videos that are posted to the YouTube page.
“I love the Fairlawn webpage,” said Liz Maxson, a high school English teacher at Fairlawn. “It is such a unique and engaging way for the staff at Fairlawn to stay connected to students. It also gives us the chance to collaborate and be creative while sharing books, information and joy through technology.”
Maxson, who also is the school’s drama director and Academia and Muse Machine adviser, sang “Puff, the Magic Dragon” in a video posted to the YouTube page. In other videos, she was joined by Superintendent Jeff Hobbs and high school and middle school Principal John Stekli for puppet theater.
“It’s kind of silly, but at the end of the day, it breaks the ice a little bit,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs, Stekli and elementary Principal Karen McRill formulated the idea to create a YouTube page that could reach the district’s students while they’re away from the school. The teachers quickly embraced the idea.
“It was like wildfire, and then everybody was about it,” Hobbs said.
The most popular video so far has been Sailor’s reading of Mercer Mayer’s “Little Critter’s Jack and the Beanstalk” that was recorded in the cab of his tractor. It was viewed more than 350 times in the first few days after it was posted online.
“It was just something different than everybody else was doing,” Sailor said. “I had the tractor and I had the story, and it just worked.
“Tractors and little kids goes over well. About any animal you could show them, they get really worked up.”
Prior to in-classroom education being suspended, Maxson worked with four student puppeteers – junior Zoey Douglas, junior Paige Pennington, sophomore Josh Stekli and freshman Darcy Maxson – to create a performance for Fairlawn Elementary students.
With the students no longer in school, Hobbs, Liz Maxson and John Stekli used the puppets to create their own shows. In their first performance, the trio read poetry by Shel Silverstein.
“I have always been a fan of the 1990s cartoon, ‘The Animaniacs,’ and there was a bit on there called Dot’s Poetry Corner,” Maxson said. “It mixed poetry and humor. I thought our puppets could do the same.
“I immediately thought of Shel Silverstein’s poetry because it would make for an interesting and enjoyable set of poetry that could also include a level of ironic humor. As a bonus, it offered us the chance to bring a different type of children’s literature, namely poetry, to the YouTube channel.”
Along with poetry, the puppeteers recorded a stand-up comedy special and also plan to host a name that movie game in which viewers will guess what movie is being depicted based on quotes performed by the puppets.
For his readings, Sailor has more locations on his farm that he could feature and would like to include a calf in his next video.
Plans also are underway for Sailor and science teacher Chris Clark to potentially host their annual chem demo on YouTube if schools remain shuttered.
While they’ve enjoyed the opportunity to reach children beyond the classroom with the YouTube channel, it hasn’t been easy for teachers and administrators to be separated from their students.
“Definitely tough to find our way right now, just to find that personality to relate to kids,” Sailor said. “It is definitely different. Teachers thrive off of their students, and we don’t get that opportunity right now.”
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