Tai and Lily Duong, dressed in pajamas with a big bowl of popcorn in between them, sat on an ottoman in their living room waiting for a bedtime story.
This was a special bedtime story. For starters, it was the night before the first day of school.
Second, their bedtime story was going to be read not by their parents, but by the principal of Ballenger Creek Elementary School, Kristen Canning.
Canning on Monday evening read her students a bedtime story via Facebook live-stream to get them excited for the new school year starting today.
“I think this type of communication is great to kind of put them at ease ... build anticipation for the new school year and start with good feelings,” said Amber Duong, Lily and Tai’s mother.
Tai, 7, is entering second grade at Ballenger Creek Elementary and Lily, 11, is starting sixth grade at Ballenger Creek Middle School but had attended the elementary school previously and knew Canning well.
She was upset to be leaving her old school but was glad to have another night to connect with her former principal.
“There’s so much love from the staff members, so it’s sad to leave,” Lily said. “But I’m excited, too.”
As the minutes ticked toward 7 p.m., Tai and Lily became more excited as they continued guzzling popcorn.
The reading would be live-streamed from the Ballenger Creek Elementary Parent Teacher Association Facebook page.
After a few failed attempts to get the video up on the TV, the Duong family turned to a cellphone, where they listened to Canning read two stories — “When I Was Brave” and “Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave”.
Canning said she chose those titles to instill confidence in students before the first day.
“It connects for lots of our kids who are new to our school and our community, and it’s about courage and what it feels like when you do things that are hard,” Canning said.
Canning started the night-before-school bedtime story reading last year after she heard about a principal in another state who had done it.
There was so much positive feedback from both parents and students after last year’s reading that she decided to continue it this year and read two stories instead of one. She said it helps students have a sense of familiarity before walking in on the first day.
“We’re always looking for ways to make connections between school and home,” Canning said. “They get a chance to see who I am and so there’s a familiar face when they come to school, and it’s a way for us to try and promote the excitement for the first day of school.”
As Canning read the stories Monday night from the porch of her home, Lily and Tai listened intently, glued to the screen.
Each gleaned different messages from the stories.
From “When I Was Brave” — a story about a girl who moves to a new house — Tai said, “she was moving to another place but her heart was glowing and became happier because she was brave.”
For Lily, the message was more directed. A pep talk of sorts for the soon-to-be middle schooler.
“She brought up all the different [traits] you can be tomorrow — confident, curious, asking questions,” Lily said. “No matter what happens you will get through it and everything will be OK.”
In addition to confidence and courage, Canning said she hopes the activity will promote reading.
“Everything that we do always we try to promote literacy and to promote that reading is a fun thing and sharing reading is a gift,” Canning said.
An idea that already seems to have taken hold. Canning said after last year’s reading parents went out and bought the book she had read and students looked for it in the school library.
“Hearing them get excited about looking for the books in the library that we read it just reinforced that this is something that goes along with what our goal is for kids, so it’s a good thing,” Canning said.
Her activity also seems to be taking hold across the county. Thurmont Primary School and Carroll Manor Elementary School held their own bedtime story readings Monday night, after first reaching out to Canning to learn how she had done it.
“Whenever we have something that works for us, the best thing we can do is share it with someone else,” Canning said.
When the stories were finished, Canning gave the students one last message before signing off.
“Come to school tomorrow ready to be your best ... because bobcats, we are so glad you’re back,” she said.
Both Tai and Lily said the stories helped them feel extra confident for the first day, even though there would be big changes for both. A new school for Lily and the first time going to school without his sister for Tai.
When asked if he would miss having his sister in the same building, Tai said he would but then added, “I’m kind of already getting over it.”