Oro Valley principal connects with families using daily video series

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Innovation Academy Michael McConnell: “It makes me feel good to know they’re seeing my message and feeling my love for them each day." - INNOVATION ACADEMY YOUTUBE
  • Innovation Academy Youtube
  • Innovation Academy Michael McConnell: “It makes me feel good to know they’re seeing my message and feeling my love for them each day."
Innovation Academy Principal Michael McConnell is used to seeing hundreds of excited children in the halls of his Oro Valley school—and the empty campus is an unwelcome sight.

Considering the anxiety kids are experiencing while they sit at home for the remainder of the school year, McConnell gave himself a task: Make sure students start their day with a friendly face.

So he turned to Facebook.



Every morning, McConnell dons an alter ego for a few minutes and delivers an episode of his new video series, the title of which changes with the character he plays.

The show began with Prince I. Pal, who delivered Mr. Rogers-like messages, read books and discussed different topics. After a two-week run, the character was “canceled” April 3—much to the disappointment of Innovation Academy families.



One parent said Prince I. Pal was their family’s “favorite lunchtime channel.”

“We love staying connected to you and the school while we are home,” the parent wrote.

While the cancellation was intended as a joke, McConnell said he was thrilled to know families were sitting down together to watch his videos.

“It makes me feel good to know they’re seeing my message and feeling my love for them each day,” he said. “When I see that my efforts were being appreciated and valued and used, it made me feel good. The time I’m putting in every day is worth it.”

Just a few days after canceling Prince I. Pal, McConnell returned with his newest character: Principal Science. The new program includes a science vocabulary word of the day, this day in science, a “Did you know?” segment and the explanation of a different scientific principle.

While McConnell has spent his mornings entertaining and explaining new topics to his students and their parents, he said his staff has worked to provide as positive an educational experience as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of public schools.

This isn’t homeschooling, he said. It’s crisis schooling.

“But if you want something done, throw it at teachers and they’ll figure it out,” McConnell said. “They’ll make it happen. In this case, it’s one of those times where the direction from the state was minimal, the direction from the district at the very beginning was minimal. Teachers just came together and said, ‘Here’s the problem, and here’s how we’re going to do it. We’re going to figure it out, we’re going to make it happen.’”

While teachers are working over Zoom calls and online worksheets to keep their students on-track, parents are more involved than ever in the education process as living rooms transform into classrooms.

After several weeks of adapted education, McConnell had the following 10 tips for parents and their young learners.

1. Kids need a designated and comfortable space for learning
2. Take frequent “brain breaks.” Get up and move
3. Find a schedule that works. Flexibility is key as some families have multiple students and parents working from home and sharing technology devices
4. Turn off the devices sometimes. Read a book, play a board game, go for a bike ride or walk
5. Build of your child’s interests and passions
6. Integrate hands-on experiences like cooking, building, dancing, and music
7. Free online resources are popping up every minute. Don’t try them all, but find a few you like
8. If you can’t do all the assignments, do what you can and be OK with that
9. Take it slow. When you think you are going slow, go slower
10. Don’t panic. We are in this together and we are going to be just fine. Kids are resilient.

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