In these times of uncertainty, while children may seem oblivious to what has been in the news regarding COVID-19 many can sense their parent’s fear. One area principal has tried to create a sense of normalcy for his students, but his calm and care for his students has reached across the metro
John McDonald, Albertville Primary School and Bright Beginnings principal with St. Michael-Albertville schools, said that after Governor Tim Walz announced on March 8 that all K-12 schools in the state were to close until March 27, he and his staff immediately got to work on a plan for distance learning. Albertville Primary has about 400 kindergarten students and Bright Beginnings has about 280 preschoolers.
“Honestly, I was shocked, just as all teachers and parents were when the news came out,” he said.
McDonald said he understood why the plan to close the schools was put in place. “It’s to keep families safe,” he said. “But I know that there has been fear from parents and that their kids will see and sense that fear.”
He thought about what he could do for the students and their families. He said he looked at guidelines from STMA superintendent Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault and the governor’s guidance plan for schools. McDonald said Foucault expressed that families may need to be reassured in this uncertain time.
“I said, ‘I can do this,’” he said. Then he came up with an idea.
On March 15, his birthday, McDonald put a message out on the Albertville Primary School Facebook page. Sharing his birthday wish, he said, “I want our preschoolers and kindergartners to know how much I miss you, how much I care about you and that I love you.”
He also told families that everyone is in this together, using a calming voice to reassure everyone listening. He thanked the families for their patience. “I know that situation affects everyone differently, and that it isn’t easy,” he said.
At the end of the message McDonald said keep connections with the students and give them a sense of normalcy, he would read a story every night at 7 p.m., Monday to Friday, on Facebook Live.
While storytime isn’t new for McDonald – he reads a “good night story” at the end of every month – he expanded upon the idea.
McDonald said he hoped to remind his students that school was still there even if the way they were learning was going to be different for a while.
During his first week of nightly stories, the reaction from families and the community was positive. “People have reached out to me personally to express their thanks and gratitude,” he said.
Last week, his video was featured on local television and radio stations with shout outs. McDonald said on his once-a-month reading he usually has about 800 to 1,200 views. His first week of nightly readings received between 2,000 and 5,000 views.
He said it was all very humbling, but he is glad his message is getting out there.
“My message was originally to the school, but now it reaches other areas of the Twin Cities, but my message still rings true,” he said. “We all miss each other and care about each other.”
He added the readings are not about him, but they are about kids and families and how to stay connected with each other right now.
As for the stories McDonald chooses to read each night. “I pick something funny and upbeat,” he said. “Everyone needs a good laugh. The books all have the theme of humor in it.
McDonald will continue the nightly reading until March 27 for sure. To watch a live book reading by McDonald or watch his past readings, visit Albertville Primary School on Facebook.