Pittsburgh Community Comes Together for Virtual Storytimes

Literacy Pittsburgh uses Youtube as a nontraditional storytime platform for refugee and immigrant students

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Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher, Steven Brault, reads “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” for Literacy Pittsburgh’s Family Literacy Program, 
which provides the familiar comfort of story time while kids are away from 
the classroom. (Courtesy of Literacy Pittsburgh)


Watching a story get read by a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball player on Youtube isn’t the traditional storytime, but when the coronavirus pandemic forced people to find new ways to interact and learn, Literacy Pittsburgh turned to virtual story times as one solution.  

Literacy Pittsburgh is an adult education organization with a focus on people who are learning to speak English or who need to gain a high school credential, according to Caitlin Griffiths, who serves as the Family Literacy Program Manager.

When the Family Literacy program had to end its classes on March 12,  Griffiths didn’t want to end the interactive literacy activity that the children and families enjoyed. She posted a video of herself reading “I’ll Love You Till the Cows Come Home” on March 19.  

Griffiths reached out to the Pittsburgh community to request recorded videos of themselves reading books. There are now 60 videos posted on the Family Literacy Storytime Youtube channel. “It kind of just caught on and we saw a lot of interest — especially people like the Pittsburgh Pirates. They really took it to heart,” she said. 

Steven Brault, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, recorded himself reading “The Rainbow Fish,” “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” and “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” for the Literacy Pittsburgh storytime project. 

“‘Chicka Chicka Boom Boom’ is fun, because reading it is a hassle. I had to do a few takes on that, because the first take, I was just all over the place. And I didn’t get all the letters in order, which is kind of sad, because you’d think at this age, I should probably know the alphabet,” he said, laughing.

Brault loves reading, especially fantasy and fiction books.  He said he likes to be able to think on his feet by reading fiction books about wizards and dragons. “I think that being yourself can make things very entertaining,” he said. 

Brault said that a lot of his teammates are from Latino countries, and according to him, a lot of them learned English when they were kids by either reading or watching a TV show that was mainly in English. 

As an education resource to those who are learning English, Literacy Pittsburgh’s Family Literacy Program serves more than 70 parents and 100 children annually, and a majority of families are immigrants and refugees.

"I Wish You More" read by Gisele Fetterman, Second Lady of PA 
(courtesy of Literacy Pittsburgh).


Giselle Fetterman, the second lady of Pennsylvania, came to America as an undocumented immigrant when she was eight years old. As a dreamer and a student who had to learn English, she said she has a real connection to literacy programs.

“I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It’s a beautiful country with amazing people, but it’s also very violent. My mom just decided one day that we had to go,” Fetterman said. “So, with all the courage in the world, she packed us up and we left on this adventure, and we moved to New York and we started a new life there.”

Fetterman and her mom didn’t speak English. “I still remember really being scared of visitors that weren’t expected. Knocks at the door, the doorbell ringing. That was something I carried for a really long time, that kind of fear because we lived in limbo for so long,” she said. “But we had amazing people who welcomed us and embraced us, and literacy volunteers have really been a big part of that.”

During typical times, The Family Literacy Program holds classes four times a week where the time is split up between adult education, parent education and an interactive literacy activity. Sometimes the interactive literacy activity is a storytime, other times it’s a craft, dance or song. 

Before the pandemic, families and teachers participate in an Interactive Literacy Activity for “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” week (Courtesy of Literacy Pittsburgh).

The switch to the virtual interactive literacy activity received a welcoming response, according to Griffiths. “It’s really funny because at first the kids were really into it, but the parents weren’t as into it, but then the parents realized how much the kids liked it and how much it took off their plate because they were trying to read these kids’ books that they didn’t understand,” she said.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused school years to be cut short, resulting in virtual classrooms from home, which can lead to even more challenges for students who already face language barriers, according to Fetterman. 

“I just read that more than half of the children in the Philadelphia school district have yet to log into schooling. That means they’ve had no education in the last seven weeks. That’s alarming,” she said. “And if you pile on top of that, the more barriers that there are including language, including access to internet, that’s a lot of time. The learning gap that exists already is really broad and this is only going to continue to extend that gap.”

Students Lila Burns, 8, and Katharine Burns, 15, teamed up as sisters to read “Chicken Big” together for a virtual storytime. 

“Chicken Big” read by Katharine and Lila Burns

“I think it’s pretty cool just knowing that it’s going out to help people,” Katharine Burns said. 

Lila Burns is currently reading Harry Potter. Her advice for reading is don’t try to read fast, she said. “I don’t read very fast, but I read a lot, so that’s probably why I get through my books so fast.”

As things continue to change, Griffiths wants her students to know to just keep doing the best they can. “They don’t have to be perfect anymore. This is different and new for all of us.”

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