To foster a love of reading, elementary educators tell their students to read a book at night, or have someone read to them. One principal in Texas has made it personal: She snuggles into a pair of pajamas and reads to her students herself.
“I don’t know if they are read to or not at home,” said Belinda George, 42, a first-year principal at Homer Drive Elementary in Beaumont, in Southeast Texas.
George, often in a cozy onesie, opens Facebook Live on her phone each Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. As she reads a children’s book in her living room, anyone who goes to the school’s Facebook page can watch live. She calls it “Tucked-in Tuesdays,” and it’s become somewhat of a sensation at her school.
“Kids will come up to me Wednesday and say, ‘Dr. George, I saw you in your PJs reading!,” she said. “They’ll tell me their favorite part of the book.”
After watching George and listening to her animated character voices (and sometimes her funny asides) students will approach her to ask where they can find that book in the school library.
And it’s begun to expand beyond Homer Drive Elementary. Since George has gotten some media attention, parents and children from across the country are starting to tune in, as well.
“Serenity is watching from Albuquerque, NM,” reads one comment on a post. “LOVE THIS!!!!!,” reads another commenter from Illinois. “Thank you for going out of your way for them!,” reads a third from Orlando.
George says she does it to keep the relationship strong between home and school. And also because she adores her students.
“The bottom line is I love, love kids,” said George, adding she does not have any of her own. “I know if I don’t reach them outside of school I never reach them in school.”
George started the readings in December for her 680 students. Some of her Facebook Live videos have gotten as many as 2,000 views. She said she wears pajamas because she says good night to them at the end of the video, and she wants to be “true to what I’m saying.”
Each Tucked-in Tuesday begins with a roll call of sorts, as George gives a shout-out to the students who have signed on and pop up on her screen. She has to be careful she pronounces every name correctly.
“They’ll come in the next day and tell me, ‘You’re saying my name wrong,’” she said.
Her readings promote family time, she says, because parents watch along with students (she calls them scholars rather than students). It’s also interactive because George asks questions for the children to answer as she reads.
When she read the book “Ladybug Girl,” she slid on enormous ladybug wings and cuddled a large stuffed ladybug. The evening she read “Madeline’s Christmas,” she had on a Cookie Monster onesie with the hood up. There was a huge inflatable astronaut behind her this past Tuesday as she read “Astronaut Handbook.” George announces the reading grade level of each book, and her students can take an optional quiz about the book the following day as part of the school’s reading comprehension curriculum.
The evening she read “Ladybug Girl,” she came to a page where Ladybug Girl’s brother says she can’t play with him because she’s too small. George paused and looked into the camera.
“How many of you have ever been told that you’re too little to do something?,” she asked. “I have three older sisters, and they used to tell me I was too little to do something.
"But guess what?” she asked with a glint in her eye. “I did it anyway.”
Her audience laughed along with her, responding with comments like: “Gisselle is clapping she said she loves when you read ♥️♥️♥️♥️”
George said 94 percent of her students come from economically disadvantaged homes, and last year’s literacy tests showed that an average of just 55 percent of her third-, fourth- and fifth-graders were reading on or above grade level.
She said since she became principal this school year, students have made strides in literacy. “We’ve already seen growth,” she said.
George said she has a deep understanding of growing up in an economically disadvantaged home. She and her five siblings grew up in a three-bedroom trailer in Louisiana. Her father, who worked at a crawfish farm, dropped out of school in fifth grade to care for his father. Her mother stopped school in 11th grade.
“My mom and dad were great parents,” she said, adding that they emphasized education even though they did not have a lot of it themselves. “My mom was a really smart lady.”
She said she gives positive feedback to her students, and has high expectations, but also knows the importance of meeting them where they are. For example, she said she doesn’t want students to feel like they have let her down if they don’t end up attending college.
“I understand some of these kids will never go to college, but I don’t want them to feel like they’re not successful. Whatever you choose, just be good at it,” she said. “If you’re a ditch digger, be the best ditch digger there is.”
In addition to reading to them once a week, she also has twice-weekly dance parties at school and does home visits to give students kudos and to help them if they are off track.
“Anything I can do to build relationships,” she said. “If a child feels loved they will try. There’s no science about it.”