May 8, 2020
Some plucky pals are encouraging Williamsburg Elementary School Patriots to keep their chins up through a new video series “Chinchilla Check-Ins,” much to the students’ delight. While on the surface the videos are light and friendly, each is embedded with a heartfelt topic or lesson inspired by the school’s certified staff.
Domestic chinchillas Chitchat and Cheerio typically reside in the main office at Williamsburg and serve as a friendly welcome to visitors and students alike. They are hypoallergenic, odorless, large enough for students to see through the hallway windows, and have a long lifespan of about 15 years, making them ideal stewards at an elementary school, according to Principal Dr. Julie Dye. During this building closure, the two cuddly creatures have been cared for at Dr. Dye’s home, and star in a series of videos in which they “speak” to students with uplifting messages.
“All of our students love Chitchat and Cheerio,” Dye said. “When I found that app that lets them speak for themselves, I made a short one, then adapted the theme each week to a different topic. The goal is to provide students with brighteners.”
Dr. Dye uses an app which allows her to record audio, adjust the voice pitch, and add movement to the mouths of the animals. The teachers then share the videos digitally with their students.
The first video reminds students they are missed and reassures them that the chinchillas are being cared for in a safe environment during this period of remote learning. In the second video, Dr. Dye was inspired to include some strategies for overcoming sad feelings that had been provided by Williamsburg WES Social Worker Mrs. Kim Holstein. Parents are appreciative of these positive messages.
“My daughter is in 1H and she totally enjoyed the little chinchilla videos,” said Jamie Dinella. “She finds them really entertaining and asks to see them over and over again. I think having any connection with school right now is a good thing.”
The second video also incorporates Chitchat’s rendition of an optimistic song that Williamsburg Music Teacher Mrs. Leah Kamm introduced students to during a remote learning lesson the week prior, called “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley. Kamm also reads the book “Every Little Thing” by Marley’s daughter Cedella. This stuck a chord with students, according to parents.
Sarah Schafer says everyone in her family loves the videos, in particular her two daughters. “I love how it was introduced in the music class, the story was read, and then the next week Chitchat sang it! They were like ‘Hey, we know this song!’ We hope to see more chinchilla videos in the future,” Schafer added.
The videos have sparked additional hours of fun and self-directed learning. Lori Smith’s two sons, ages 11 and 8, watched the videos multiple times and then branched out to sing and dance to the original song. “They were both inspired to make a video of our pets, too,” Smith added. “So they found an app and made videos themselves.”
The third video includes Cheerio’s video debut, in a special poem in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week. While the content is tailored for a K-5 audience, older siblings and parents are finding joy in the messages.
“I enjoy the videos, too, since I too always take a look at them when I would go into the school. It just lightens up your day and makes you smile.”
The ongoing project is not only having an impact on the audience, but on the creator as well.
“It has allowed me to stay connected with families, to say ‘We are still here,’” Dye said, adding that each video is a step toward maintaining the bonds that have been created. “It’s OK to be upset, but then it’s really important that we move forward positively. We’re in this together.”
Please click through the slideshow below to see how these lessons and videos inspired students with their own creations!
Resources for Families:
Social Worker Kim Holstein checks in with students through a daily social emotional activity, as well as a weekly coping skills check-in. She has made several resources available to families via this public link (please scroll to very bottom): SEL Page @ Williamsburg Elementary School
Music Teacher Mrs. Kamm records music lessons regularly for teachers to share with students. Please click this link to watch her sing “Three Little Birds” and read the story via her remote learning video channel: https://youtu.be/pac3m9HV9oE?t=81