Connecting with Greenport students from afar through Instagram video series of bedtime stories

In an effort to engage with Greenport students who are now learning from home, elementary school staff have teamed up to create an Instagram video series for young students to watch before bed. 

Greenport and other school districts in Suffolk County shut down March 16 after state officials mandated a two-week closure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a March 17 press conference that it’s “probably a safe assumption” that there will be another two-week school closure will begin March 30.

Greenport staff are shifting attention away from the pandemic by going live at 8 p.m. each night on the district’s Instagram account, @greenportufsd, to read children’s books to students. 

The series, Porters Bedtime Stories, was organized March 10 by elementary principal Joseph Tsaveras, after he learned that Hampton Bays Superintendent Lars Clemensen was launching a similar series that evening.

“I put it out to our staff and the teachers just jumped all over it,” Mr. Tsaveras said by phone last Wednesday. “The reason behind it was that each day we could put a friendly face to the kid, someone they know, make them feel good about it.”

One teacher will read each night during March, he said, adding that he hopes the series continues into April.

The video series kicked off with Mr. Tsaveras reading “The True Story of The Three Little Pigs” by Jon Scieszka. Around 50 viewers tuned in. 

Katherine Ryan of Wading River, a fifth-grade teaching assistant in the district, suggested that the live videos begin with a personalized opening. 

Before reading, for example, speakers make note of student birthdays and fun facts. After they finish the book, they announce the next night’s reader and conclude with a mindful quote. 

Ms. Ryan, who has worked in the district for 12 years and is bilingual, will read “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown in English and in Spanish.

“I think it’s important because we want to include everybody and make everybody feel that we’re thinking of them,” she said last week. “That we all help each other no matter what language you speak. We want to get through this as a community.” 

Greenport is small, Ms. Ryan noted, so staff and students see each other daily. Since students are now home, she said, there’s a disconnect in that relationship. The live stream allows teachers to continue communicating and sharing ideas during this time. 

Greenport schools initiated online instruction March 19, by giving elementary and high school students digital access to assignments organized by discipline and teacher. Mr. Tsaveras, who said he’s trying to stay connected with students and families, encouraged students to post pictures to Instagram of themselves keeping their minds and bodies healthy, using the hashtag #PorterStrong.

“We don’t know what they’re going through when they’re home,” Mr. Tsaveras said. “If at the end of the day, they have something to look forward to, then we’re going to do it.”