Published on April 7, 2020 by Leighton Doores  
Gemma Garcia Diaz

Every weekday at 3 p.m., Gemma Garcia-Diaz sets up a camera and records herself reading chapters of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

For Garcia-Diaz, a 2018 alumna of Orlean Beeson School of Education’s teacher education program, the new routine is an effort to stay connected with her fourth-grade students at Vestavia Hills Elementary West after COVID-19 forced schools across the state to close for the remainder of the year.

Prior to the pandemic outbreak, one of the highlights of Garcia-Diaz’s class was their picture book bracket to determine the MVPB (Most Valuable Picture Book), modeled after March Madness. In the school’s new virtual environment, she was determined to not only complete the picture book bracket virtually, but to continue reading aloud to the children after they finished the bracket.

What started as reading two chapters a day, quickly increased to three as students asked for more. She records and uploads the reading to Google Classroom where students can comment and discuss the book with each other.

Garcia-Diaz originally chose the book because she thought author Roald Dahl’s humorous and enthusiastic writing would engage the kids and offer them a reprieve from stressful changes in their life.

“I think having some consistency has been really helpful especially when everything was changing so quickly,” said Garcia-Diaz. “On top of that, the parents feel relieved because for that small time in the day, they know their kids are calm and happy watching those videos.”

As the reading and language teacher, her purpose was two-fold. She wanted a way to connect with the kids and keep communication open, but she also wanted to continue growing their reading skills and have the opportunity to discuss books. 

Having already used Google Classroom some throughout the year, the students were able to adapt quickly. Garcia-Diaz also received positive feedback and support from parents thanking her for offering the videos as a consistent resource.

“I’m thankful that the fourth-graders are able to do Google Classroom, comment responsibly and have these conversations with each other, and also have the desire to do it, so I’ve been really thankful for the students and the parents during this time.”

After finishing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Garcia-Diaz plans to start City of Ember next. This time has been a test for everyone as teachers, students and parents have had to adapt to new routines and challenges, but Garcia-Diaz feels like she was prepared to take this learning process in stride.

“The one thing that Samford really instilled in me is that there is no limit to what I can do.”

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.