Bringing Books and Love to Young Readers as Learning and Community Goes Online

With Schools Closed to Stop the Coronavirus Spread, Touro GSE Alumnus Myra Cocolicchio-Diaz Keeps in Touch with Her Students Through Instagram Live

April 07, 2020
screenshot of Myra\'s instagram live with Touro and Tufts diploma

As all New York City schools shut down to curb the coronavirus pandemic, kindergarten teacher Myra Cocolicchio-Diaz, an alumnus of Touro’s Graduate School of Education (GSE), quickly realized that her most vulnerable students were at a disadvantage.

“We transitioned to online learning, but I realized that many of our students don’t have access to tablets or the internet,” explained Cocolicchio-Diaz who teaches kindergarten at C.S. 55, the Benjamin Franklin School in the Bronx; the district is considered one of the poorest in the nation. “As the schools were closing, I wondered: how am I going to reach my kids? It was then that I realized something: their families have cellphones.”

Cocolicchio-Diaz organized a twice-daily story hour on Instagram Live taking place at 12 and eight p.m. “I’m not a social media person,” admitted Cocolicchio-Diaz. “You won’t find my picture on Facebook. Even though I’ve never posted anything personal on Instagram, I realized that Instagram Live was a way where my students could listen to stories and see their teacher.”

During each session, Cocolicchio-Diaz and her children read children’s books in English and then in Spanish. In the two weeks since she's started her program, more than 1000 viewers have tuned into the program with an average of about 40-60 viewers per episode with viewers tuning in from across America. The story hour has earned Cocolicchio-Diaz accolades from her fellow educators and she was recently featured on CBS This Morning's correspondent David Begnaud's Instagram Live program. “It’s a lunchtime story and then another before bed,” said Cocolicchio-Diaz whose own two children join in and help read. (In one extra video, Cocolicchio-Diaz’s six-year-old son Aiden read Goodnight Moon.)

Along with her Co-teacher V. Cedeño (another Touro GSE Alumnus) who also has started posting read-alouds to Instagram, the two educators have read through twenty books so far and are currently looking for more books to read. They have read everything from the Gingerbread Man to Color of His Own and Feathers for Lunch.

Cocolicchio-Diaz also spoke about how she runs her online classroom. At the beginning of each online class, the teachers and students sing “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley, a song that the class sings every morning when school is in session. “We ask them how they’re feeling and they or their parents will write in a response or speak into the phone,” continued Cocolicchio-Diaz. “It’s a way to normalize the situation we are in.”

“We stop what we’re doing, and we acknowledge their feelings,” continued Cocolicchio-Diaz who has also decorated her dining room where she does her video with posters and mementos from her classroom. “This is a safe space and we want them to feel comfortable telling us how they feel. A lot of are students are sad and miss their friends, but we’re able to give each other a virtual hug and see other's smiling faces. It’s just really nice—It’s a stressful situation and we want to mitigate it as much as possible.”

As a child, Cocolicchio-Diaz was part of the Prep for Prep 9 program that provides ​preparation for private school education for high achieving students of color. Afterwards, she attended Tufts University where she earned her bachelor’s and first master’s in child development. “Initially, I had planned to become a child psychologist,” said Cocolicchio-Diaz, “but I always ended up teaching in some capacity and it was something I gravitated towards.”

After returning to New York from Massachusetts, Cocolicchio-Diaz enrolled in GSE for a master’s degree in general and special education. “Touro gave me a foundation to know how to plan a curriculum and go into class knowing what I want to accomplish,” said Cocolicchio-Diaz who has served in a variety of positions with NYC’s Department of Education for the last ten years. Cocolicchio-Diaz is currently enrolled in GSE’s School Leadership program.

“This is a new learning curve for everyone, but we’re going to get through this together,” concluded Cocolicchio-Diaz. “At the end of the day, it’s all about relationships. Kids learn best when they feel that they are loved.”