Mr. Limata, a first-grade teacher at Emerson Elementary School in Oakland, opens his Facebook Live story-time sessions Romper Room-style, bidding a buoyant good morning to each name that pops up on his screen. “Good morning Maya! Good morning to you, Luis and Leslie! Good morning to you Robin! Ah, there’s Leon and Mateo, good morning! Ruby, we have the whole crew today!
“Hope everybody is having a great time at home,” he says in his graceful Zambian accent. “Now, are you ready for, ‘I Am a Cat’?”
They are indeed. And on this day, Mr. Limata — his full name is Peter Limata Limata (there’s a story behind that too) — dressed in an “I hecka (heart) math!” shirt, leans forward on his sofa in front of a wall of art, makes a couple of school-related announcements and gives a shout-out to grocery workers, doctors and nurses everywhere. Then he opens the picture book, his eyes widening when he turns the page to a lion, cheetah, tiger, puma and panther who are laughing at a silly little house cat named Simon.
Mr. Limata laughs out loud with them in a hearty guffaw of “Hahahaha!”
School teachers everywhere are trying to connect with their students online during stay-at-home orders and school-year cancellations. Others at Emerson are reading books online too, and one even hosted an online dance party.
But thanks to the expansive reach of the internet, story time in a first-grade class in Oakland or San Mateo or Livermore has grown to fit a global classroom.
“The idea for me came the Sunday after the closure, like, ‘What can I do to give the kids continuity to those awesome story time moments we usually do in class?’” he said. “And since then it has been growing every day.”
He knows the kids in his class will tune in. “But then we started getting siblings and friends and grown-ups too, and now it’s people from Chicago, Baltimore, New York and even England and Scotland. It’s crazy,” he said. On any given day, 30 to 50 children join in. “It’s really fascinating to see how kids across cultures are able to relate through the characters and the adventures in the book and on these online platforms.”
Since the shelter-in-place orders began, Mr. Limata has read books like “Dragons Love Tacos” by Adam Rubin, “Hair Love” by Matthew A. Cherry, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” by Mo Willems and classics like “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak.
When the book of the day was “Alma and How She Got Her Name,” by Juana Martinez-Neal, he shared his own story and encouraged the viewers to chime in.
“My full name is Peter Limata Limata,” he said, explaining his family name of Limata, originally spelled Jimata from the Nkoya tribe in Zambia, meant “huge first raindrop from heaven.” “Then I was born in November around the beginning of the rainy season in Zambia, so for my middle name it made sense to be the ‘first raindrop from heaven,’” he told his viewers. “What is the story behind your name? Share your name’s story and we might be able to share during story time!”
Names are indeed important, and he soon discovered that if he missed a “good morning” to someone, he’d hear about it right away. “I’ll get an email, ‘You didn’t call my name!’ So I have to be sure to welcome everybody,” he said.