When the COVID-19 pandemic closed her elementary school last month in Delaware, Ohio, Marie Weller, ’84, wanted to continue working with students dealing social and emotional issues on a daily basis.

So, the veteran school counselor in Delaware City Schools, located outside of Columbus, Ohio, enlisted her closest allies – several toy puppets – to join her in a series of YouTube videos created in her kitchen.

“When I heard the news, I went to the school to grab my books, materials for lesson plans, and of course, the puppets,” said Weller, who previously lived in Carmel, Indiana, before enrolling in Ball State. “So, I’m teaching social-emotional learning lessons from my house with an assist from my puppets, who help with demonstrating various situations and are more engaging than me alone.

“Creativity feeds my soul and keeps me sane, especially now. But most of all, this helps me feel connected my students, who challenge and inspire me to learn something new every day!”

Weller believes that her students need her assistance as they participate in online learning.

“One of the ways I help the students is by teaching social thinking. That means helping them to learn how the world works, how they fit into it, and how to behave in ways that are socially acceptable. Now, instead of talking to my students, I talk to the puppets.”

So, armed with an iPhone, her classes were digitally transformed. At first, the videos were sent directly to her students. But with a great deal of feedback from parents and a nudge from her daughter, Weller posted the videos on YouTube.

And so far the puppets seem to be stealing the show. She’s received several emails from parents giving their approval.

“I’ve had the puppets around for a while and the kids really like them,” said Weller, who noted the characters are loosely based on her children but the names have been changed. “Some of my stories are based on personal experiences, and my children wouldn’t be happy if I used their names. I also have a son who is an attorney and I don’t want to be sued by him.”

With the puppets at her side, in one video she uses the metaphor of “the guard dog” and “the wise owl” to teach brain function and stress response to her elementary school students. She also created a follow-up episode to that lesson that includes some additional breathing and relaxation exercises to calm “the guard dog” part of the brain.

“This is timely information for all of us coping with the ‘stay at home’ order and the uncertainty,” Weller said.

No matter how long schools are closed, Weller believes she is fulfilling a role in these children’s lives. And she thanks her faculty and mentors at Ball State for preparing her for the rigors of the classroom.

“I had a wonderful experience at Ball State, and Teachers College got me ready for the classroom,” Weller said. “The University has a national reputation for its teacher prep program. It’s just a high-quality University.”

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