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Detroit teacher posts nightly bedtime stories to connect with students during quarantine

Voncile Campbell in green striped shirt smiling
Warren E. Bow School
Detroit elementary math teacher Voncile Campbell has been reading nightly bedtime stories to her students on her school's Facebook page.

Thousands of Michigan students have been cut adrift from their school communities as the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered school buildings. Their academic paths suddenly depend on their family’s ability to obtain electronic devices or pay for internet service. But teachers are working to find new ways to stay connected with their students—like virtual bedtime stories. 

That's what Voncile Campbell's been doing. She is a elementary school master math teacher in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. She recently started posting nightly videos of herself reading bedtime stories aloud to her school’s Facebook page.

“I was missing the kids, and I wanted to do something that the kids could really relate to and connect to, so I decided I would read a bedtime story and post it on Facebook. And I had no idea that it would just … blow up that way,” Campbell said.

Campbell has been teaching in Detroit for nine years. She said the abrupt end to the school year left teachers, kids, and families uncertain of what would come next. Campbell has been working to stay in touch with students and their parents via texts, apps, and other digital communication platforms, but she said it's been hard.

“To date, after reaching out on a daily basis … I have only really been in communication with about five out of 32 [students in my homeroom],” Campbell explained.

Campbell said her school’s online instruction program is scheduled to begin next week, but she already has some concerns. Even for students who do have access to electronic devices and reliable internet, switching to an online classroom will be tough. 

“I’ve seen a little bit of what the struggle is going to be like already with the Zoom meetings that we’ve been holding with … three or four students at a time. You have a lot of background noise, you have siblings in the background—I mean, there’s just so much stuff going on,” she said. 

Campbell said some students she’s spoken with have expressed distress over the major shift in their daily routines. So, she tries to choose stories for her nightly read-aloud videos that send positive messages to kids about navigating change, dealing with difficult emotions, and trying again when things don’t work out the first time.

“All I can do is do my best to reach as many students I can, and support them the best way I can. And just try to stay in touch with parents, and make sure they understand what the teacher’s goal is, and that we need their support because it takes a team,” Campbell said. “The parents and teachers have to work together because we are all a part of the village, and it takes a village to raise and educate a child.”

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Nell Ovitt. 

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