Kuhn, Meldrum keep students, staff informed and entertained via YouTube during shutdown

WAYLAND — Sometimes, it’s the little things.

When students were sent home for the last time back in March, routines were thrown into disarray. Students lost the rhythm they had built during the 2019-20 school year and long before. Uncertainty reigned as social distancing and distance learning entered the lexicon.

Two Wayland-Cohocton teachers decided they had to do something to restore some sense of normalcy for the district’s youngest students.

For DeeDee Kuhn and Elise Meldrum, that has meant everything from launching their own YouTube channel to dressing up as fictional characters and engaging in plenty of self-deprecating humor … all in an effort to brighten the days of Wayland-Cohocton students.

Kuhn and Meldrum were fixtures in daily life at the elementary school. Kuhn teaches in the computer lab while Meldrum works in the library, so they interact with every class. Their school celebrity grew in recent years when Principal Theresa Carhart asked them to take over the morning announcements.

With students learning from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kuhn and Meldrum thought keeping that routine intact would help the young students acclimate to the sudden change.

“When we got sent home DeeDee said to me, you know, we always announce birthdays, we should probably do something to still announce their birthdays. Maybe that will make kids feel good,” Meldrum recalled. “In the beginning it was kind of scary and unknown. Nobody knew what it was going to be like. We started concocting a broadcast where we could at least say their birthdays and a few things, and if there’s any special news we’ll do that too. We’ll keep it light-hearted. We just went with it.”

Kuhn and Meldrum took their “Morning Show” to cyberspace, starting a YouTube channel to keep the morning tradition going. The show is recorded via Zoom and then posted online for students and staff.

It features birthday announcements, fun facts, distance learning tips for students, school news items … and plenty of humor. Kuhn and Meldrum make it fun for the audience, often dressing up according to one theme or another. The Force was with them this week on May the 4th, featuring a guest appearance by science teacher Richard Miller, a Star Wars superfan. (Mr. Miller’s Star Wars joke of the day — Why is Yoda such a good gardener? He has a green thumb.)

“We don’t practice or anything,” Kuhn explained. “We just come up with dumb jokes and share whatever’s going on in school. Now that we’re not in school we announce whatever the school is doing, delivering meals and things like that.”

The response from the community has been enthusiastic.

“Kids are sending pictures to us of what they’re doing. We wanted them to feel like whatever they’re doing at home is important, no matter how small it is,” Meldrum said. “If they got sent a LEGO kit and built something, we want them to have some pride in that. That’s sort of missing when you’re not in school. We show that as best we can and keep it positive and silly. The kids are sending us stuff, and we’re getting a lot of feedback from actual staff saying wow, we needed this.

“One mom emailed and said her son was almost in tears because he’s so used to hearing you every morning that when he heard you guys it made the day seem more normal. That was very cool.”

The program often features a guest joining Kuhn and Meldrum. Superintendent Eileen Feinman even joined in the fun on one recent broadcast.

“I applaud Eileen Feinman and the administration staff for everything they’ve done for the students and the community,” Meldrum said. “We live in a really small town. There’s a lot of needs in the town and they’re trying to address every need possible for families. They work all week. There’s virtual learning happening. The teachers themselves are learning all this new technology and they’re conducting classes to the kids at home and teaching new material. It’s amazing what they can do. The way they’ve adapted to the situation is pretty fantastic. They’re going above and beyond.”

The Morning Show will come full circle Monday when Principal Carhart, who was responsible for the pairing of Kuhn and Meldrum on the morning announcements, joins the program.

“She’s kind of nervous,” Kuhn said. “I said she better get on there before we turn into Howard Stern. You’ve got to get in there early.”

The duo plans to continue the program for as long as distance learning is in effect. That will be welcome news for their fans, who have given many of the Morning Show episodes several hundred views.

“We really thought it would just be a handful, but it’s amazing the feedback you get from it,” Meldrum said. “We definitely have fun doing it. It’s always a good time. We miss seeing the kids.”