Early education teachers reach out with instruction videos

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Screenshot of a YouTube video offered by the Office of Catholic Schools. Hanna Doty is a first grade teacher at St. Therese Chinese Catholic School.

When Bridget LaPietra found out that school buildings would be closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, she immediately started thinking of ways to stay connected to her PreK-4 students.

A quick email survey of parents showed that for most of them, YouTube would be the easiest platform, so that students could watch videos of their teacher at any time and on almost any device.

“With YouTube, you can watch it on a phone or a tablet if there is not a computer for the child to use,” said LaPietra, who has been teaching young children for 38 years, the last 15 at St. Giles School in Oak Park.

She began recording brief lessons — usually about seven minutes per video — and posting them on a private channel with links sent to families.

So perhaps it was no wonder that when the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Schools decided to post early education videos on its public YouTube page, ChiCathSchools, LaPietra was one of the teachers asked to help.

“We believe our students need and deserve to continue their education in spite of the closure of their school buildings,” said Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools. “I think our schools have really demonstrated their commitment and their quality over the past few weeks. I’ve been impressed with the way all of them have stepped up to deliver e-learning.”

Younger children especially need to see their teachers, Rigg said, because they have not yet developed literacy skills.

Julie Ramski, director of early childhood education, said the Office of Catholic Schools decided to post videos as a resource for families with young children who cannot yet read and those who might not be able to connect over Zoom or other online platforms.

“We do have a great disparity among our schools in terms of the resources they have and the resources our families have,” Ramski said. “We wanted to offer as much support as possible. We’re also reaching out to families who don’t speak English at home with videos in Spanish, Polish and Mandarin.”

Ramski said the hope is to help young children keep their connection to school even though they can’t be in the classroom.

“You understand what an important person a teacher is in the life of a young child,” Ramski said. “Even if it’s not their own teacher, they see a teacher talking about the same things their own teacher would be, like numbers, letters and colors.”

LaPietra covers those topics in videos recorded with the help of her adult son. She also has videos covering topics that often spark young students’ interest, including baby animals and the weather.

“I kind of pretend like they’re answering me and we keep talking,” she said. “It is fun. You learn a lot about your teaching style. I know my audience, that’s 4- and 5-year-olds. Some of the bloopers have been hilarious. My dog jumped into one.”

Hannah Doty, a first-grade teacher at St. Therese Chinese Catholic School, 247 W. 23rd St., has posted several phonics videos, often concentrating on letter-sound combinations.

“I’ll say, ‘C says this, and H says this, but when you put them together, they say this,’” Doughty explained.

She and LaPietra both have a corner at home set up to teach, with a chair and whiteboard, but Doty doesn’t have family members living with her to help with editing. Her school was on spring break when the order came to close school buildings, so for the first couple of weeks, she used whatever learning supplies she had at home.

“I was reading a lot of books that I had from when I was a child,” said Doty, who is also posting videos specifically for her own class.

Teachers were allowed in the building to get supplies after a couple of weeks, she said, and that helped. So did ordering a ring light and a better microphone online.

“I had no idea how much difference it would make,” Doty said. “It’s not perfect, which has been hard for me, as someone who’s pretty organized. The teachers are trying and the parents are trying and the kids are trying, but it’s not going to look pretty and polished like it does at school.”

She misses the interaction with children, whether that’s being able to see when a child is confused, seeing the mental lightbulbs go on when they get a concept or listening to children’s insights.

The best she can do, she said, is rely upon her experience of what things were trickier for her classes to learn in the past.

It’s not the same,” she said. “I can do the best that I can do to anticipate the things that came up previous times I’ve taught a particular skill. This isn’t anyone’s plan A and we’re all doing the very best we can, and there are things that are not going to be the same. … There are lots of teachers who were great with technology to begin with, and some of us who weren’t as good at it. We have all gotten pushed into the deep end and are swimming. Some of us are doing the backstroke beautifully, and some of us are doggy-paddling, but we’re staying afloat.”



  • catholic schools
  • coronavirus

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