John Simon and Cal Walker

John Simon and Cal Walker. 

Schools have been forced to adjust to the COVID-19 outbreak on the fly, juggling online learning, extra tutoring and digital tests without the benefit of months of planning time to prepare properly. It’s particularly difficult the younger the students are, which is where alternative methods can be additionally helpful to keep the kids engaged. 

That’s where “Sing me a Story!” comes in. 

The program is a combined effort, a book and CD of stories and songs organized by Children’s Reading Connection, led by Brigid Hubberman. Singing and music are provided by locals Cal Walker and John Simon, who perform each of the six books on the CD distributed to 181 local elementary school students.

With schools closed for the rest of the academic year, local educators have had to pivot online. Ithaca City School District, for instance, has implemented a comprehensive curriculum and schedule called “Distance Learning 2.0,” introduced in mid-April, which is designed to provide students as close to a seamless educational experience online as they may have in-classroom. 

The students were given a package with the six books, audio of Simon and Walker performing the audio books and associated songs, lyric books and a poster. Even students who are trying to learn English as a second language have benefitted from the books, presenting them with a different, more fun way to learn the language. Overall, for students, it’s good to have something cheery and simple to experience now, particularly if their home situations are stressful as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and its ripple effects. 

“I’m certain that the books going home to families has been the most important and impactful thing that we did for the kids,” said ICSD pre-kindergarten teacher Kelly Craft. “Even more than staying connected with them. Because once the books are in the hands of the children, they have total control over them. They don’t have to have a wifi or hotspot connection. They don’t have to worry about being safe. The books are just there for them, and in a way that nothing else can be right now.”

The impact on the students so far, Craft said, has been tangible, and she’s been able to see both how the songs calm the children and how they convey the stories in a more effective way. 

“My favorite is hearing them sing the book ‘Hush!’ by local author Minfong Ho, with John’s music,” Craft said. “That book has always been so captivating, but then as a teacher to know that the children can recreate the images in their heads and tie the words to them is

Fantastic. They fall asleep to the calming voices of John and Cal many days.”

Hubberman said the program had received “wonderful” feedback from teachers, and that they are hoping to accumulate funding to expand the program and distribute more packages to students of “Sing me a Story!” Hopefully, Children’s Reading Connection will be able to give out another 550 packages to local kids. She added that the pre-kindergarten teachers who have received the books are using them as a basis for students to participate in home-learning on their own or with their parents. 

“Beyond literacy, language, and learning, the books come with calm, care, concern, and love that is infused in every book, and comes as part of everything John and Cal do together,” Hubberman said. 

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