Tags: Education, Featured Story, Food & Home
Wajeha Chaudhry of Bakersfield’s Loudon Elementary teaches third grade by day, but by night she’s a kind of superhero to her students and the community. The YouTube channel Chaudhry’s Champions stands out by merging education and technology for the best result: nightly storytelling. The channel has 119 subscribers and counting but popularity has never been her goal as a content creator.
“The goal is to reach every single kid so they can have a story every single night, and it’s not a chore for parents,” said Chaudhry. “Helping a child love reading is the reason I keep making videos.”
Math was actually the reason Chaudhry joined YouTube in October 2015.
“I noticed that parents weren’t always able to help with math homework, even though they really wanted to, because math is taught so differently now compared to when we were kids. I started to wonder how I could get parents involved without bringing them into the classroom,” said Chaudhry. “I remember telling my students, ‘I can’t go home with you. I wish I could, but I can be in your tablets and iPads every night to help with your homework.’”
Early videos feature long division and fractions, but the concept extended to reading homework because of some key conversations in the classroom.
“I asked my students how many heard a bedtime story every night and one or two raised a hand. Then I asked how many had an iPad, a tablet or a phone. There were definitely way more hands. Every single child had access to the internet,” said Chaudhry. “So I said ‘Okay, you will now have a bedtime story every night, whether your parent didn’t get a chance to or it just didn’t happen for whatever reason.”
The channel grew from one subscriber to five to 15 within a few weeks. There are no sponsors, although support from the school’s administration has been important. Filming involves a cellphone and a $12 microphone. The effort’s sincerity shines through to connect with fans of all ages who often continue watching long past the third grade.
Hesitation about the role of screens in parenting can lead some families to forego seeking out the channel, a fact that Chaudhry understands first-hand as the current generation of parents seek to define what rules work for their household in the golden age of the silver screen. Never before has so much information and content been so accessible.
“Personally, I limited my own children’s screen time. There’s a lot on the internet, and on YouTube specifically, that isn’t appropriate for children, but I always tell parents my channel is perfectly safe for kids. I completely understand. If children are going to be on a tablet anyway, though, this content makes sense for them and brings learning and technology together in a beautiful way,” said Chaudhry.
Chaudhry is quick to point out that she knows first-hand how difficult it can be to squeeze in a storybook night after night for parents.
“Sometimes you’re tired, you’ve had a rough day, and your child brings you the longest book or something you don’t feel like slogging through, like a tongue twister book by Dr. Seuss. All you want to do is skip a few pages,” said Chaudhry. “All children should have an opportunity to hear stories, regardless of their background or the language they speak. Parents are working or they’re just busy, or they didn’t have a chance today, other kids in the household get sick; life happens. As a single mother for quite some time myself, I understand. It’s a team effort, all of us working together to get that love of learning and reading to happen for children.”
The channel features three videos in Spanish, too. “Just because a child does not speak English, or their parents don’t, that doesn’t mean they should miss out on the wonders of reading,” said Chaudhry, who immigrated from Pakistan at age 6 and also attended schools in Bakersfield. She is the daughter and granddaughter of professors and remembers the positive influence local teachers had on her childhood.
“My parents and grandparents always read me stories,” said Chaudhry. “Kids love to hear people reading to them, especially when they’re being silly and animated. Most kids love watching TV and movies and YouTube, but if we extend that love of narrative and discovery to reading, they may love that, too.”
Guest readers are featured on the channel each Friday. Different community leaders, from local police officers to her children’s dentist, older students, the school’s vice principal, and other celebrity-style narrators are invited to share a story and what they do. That behind-the-scenes look at different professions serves to inspire students as well.
“When kids hear about careers, that opens up another world to them. I want them to know there are so many different careers out there and that the world is so much bigger than our own homes and schools. When they see a profession, I want them to say, ‘I didn’t know about that, but now that I see it, I want to do it!’ Then, they have the opportunity to find out more through their love of reading,” said Chaudhry, who often films at offsite locations, like a virtual field trip she created from a family visit to the Long Beach Aquarium.
“The Magic Treehouse” is a popular chapter book Chaudhry has read on the channel. She also takes requests and is always looking for other voices who want to read aloud as featured professionals. The channel has inspired one of her former third grade students to start her own YouTube series in which she also reads books aloud.
“I need more people to volunteer to read and show us what they do for a living. I also really appreciate when people like, share, comment, and subscribe on YouTube. It’s all for the kids,” said Chaudhry.
If you would like to donate a book to Chaudhry’s Champions or volunteer to read aloud on her channel, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find the channel here: http://bit.ly/chaudhry_readers.