Lombard teachers connect students with 'Good News' videos, positive vibes
One teacher bounces on an exercise ball, another crawls around a homemade tent with her daughter.
A dog does push-ups, a teddy bear makes a special appearance and Spike the Madison Elementary School mascot shares puns on paper during the first episode of "Some Good News With Less Famous People," a pandemic production of two Lombard teachers.
There is even a dance party.
Ryan Kuehne and Tony Melton coordinate to write, shoot and edit the weekly films for the students they've been missing since schools shut down in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The goals of the production are lofty, as Kuehne, a physical education teacher, says in the introduction to the first episode: "To share good news, spread positive vibes, smile and laugh and, most importantly, bring our Madison community together during these different times."
The idea came from actor John Krasinski and the "Some Good News" videos he started posting on YouTube during the pandemic, with upbeat news clips and cameos from other celebrities.
It grew into an experiment in remote community connectivity as Kuehne and Melton reflected on what they miss most about their school.
"It's such a happy place to be," Kuehne, 34, of Naperville, said about Madison, where he has worked for six years.
"Our school culture is so great, and it's hard to replicate that virtually," he said. "We thought this could be a way we could pull our school atmosphere into a virtual setting and just a common place for everyone to see each other's faces and share each other's stories."
The educators behind "Some Good News With Less Famous People" teach in a district where the motto has been "We are all in this together" since Superintendent Ted Stec assumed the top leadership position in 2017, long before it became a trendy catchphrase, a la the "apart together" parlance of the coronavirus pandemic.
The district has a strategic plan called "Connect 44," and has run an "Unselfie" campaign to recognize selfless acts of kindness. And now its Madison school community is rallying behind the "Good News" videos, which have between 260 and 372 hits each, indicating roughly half of the school's 550-student population could be tuning in.
"It's cool to see how these videos have sparked more things in the community and even better stories," Melton said. "It's made this end of the year maybe a little better for them."
Before the days of remote learning, Kuehne enjoyed teaching the fundamentals of sports, as well as larger life lessons, like how to learn through adversity, to all of Madison's students.
"There is nothing better to me in life than presenting kids with a challenge and helping them through the struggles, and then eventually seeing that sense of accomplishment and how rewarding it is to see them get that 'aha moment' of, 'I can do this,'" Kuehne said.
Melton, 48, of Lombard, misses his class of 19 fifth-graders, a group he says can be goofy one moment, but ready to tackle weighty topics the next.
Kuehne and Melton worked to film the first "Good News" video themselves, with the help of several other Madison educators. Then, they got students more involved, including a call to action toward the end of each episode and challenging students to send in photos or videos of themselves responding to the call.
Participating students through the first three episodes have been called to write positive messages on signs or sidewalks, make thank-you notes for first responders or essential workers and take some time to enjoy nature. Students also have been sharing their talents and fun ways they've found to help out or give back, such as the crafting work of one of Melton's students, who made free bracelets with positive messages for her neighbors to take as inspiration.
"They are able to come up with some incredible ideas and are so creative, especially now," Melton said. "These kids have been incredible,"
The "Good News" videos reinforce these creative and positive behaviors by featuring interviews with teachers or local first responders, all expressing encouragement. Segments like "a check-in with my teddy bear," shot at Melton's house, or "jokes with Spike," shot at Kuehne's, are standards each week, as is a dance party set to peppy pop music, a bloopers reel, a parting quote and plenty of motivation.
"Our time has come to be stronger than ever before," Kuehne said during the second episode. "It will be our generation that goes down in the history books as the people who made it through Madison's darkest hour because we chose to spread the light."
To watch the videos on YouTube, follow these links:
Episode 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjZ-9TtFl_Y
Episode 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSlp5UvCxzw
Episode 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXiqIz-5TAk
May Top Teachers
Name: Ryan Kuehne
Title: Physical education teacher, kindergarten through fifth grade
Family: Parents Maureen and Mike and siblings Sean and Kim
Education: Bachelor's in Kinesiology and K-12 Recreation from Illinois State University; Master's in educational leadership from North Central College
Teaching experience: Physical education teacher at Barbara Rose Elementary in Barrington 2008 to 2014; Physical education teacher at Madison Elementary in Lombard 2014 to present; Assistant boys and girls varsity soccer coach at Naperville North High School 2007 to present
Name: Tony Melton
Title: Fifth-grade teacher
Family: Married to Luisa with son Parker, 19, and daughter Sofia, 17
Education: Bachelor's degree from Illinois State University
Teaching experience: Third-grade teacher at Churchill Elementary in Homewood, 1995-1996; Second-grade teacher at Immaculata school in Durham, North Carolina, 1996-1997; Youth ministry 1997-1998; Physical education teacher at St. Beatrice school in Schiller Park, 1998-2000; Fifth-grade teacher at Bardwell Elementary in Aurora 2000-2008; Madison Elementary in Lombard 2011 to present
Tips from the teachers
Teach kids to grow through adversity and persevere through failure.
"It teaches kids they're stronger than they think they are."
Prioritize relationships and help students learn to value their interactions with others.
"No matter what job you have in life you're going to have to get along with people."