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Kelly Simpson, who teaches sixth- and seventh-grade English language arts at the Franklin Academy, shows episodes of “Finding Ithaca” on YouTube to her classes.’
A year ago, Jesse VanDyke, a guidance counselor the Boynton Beach school, started the YouTube channel, which he describes as a “storytelling/encouragement channel that is like ‘Reading Rainbow’ with encouragement therapy thrown in.”
“The idea is that we shouldn’t give up no matter what challenges we face. I love that message and it resonates with all age groups. Mr. VanDyke does a wonderful job of blending the classic Greek images and ideas with modern images and ideas,” Simpson said.
VanDyke said feelings of depression and anxiety are up because of increased screen time, social media and COVID-19.
“You see a lot of the problems come about in middle and high school, but they start in elementary school,” he said. “Everything I do is trying to encourage kids, encourage self-esteem and their spirit…no matter what, it’s never too late to make a change.”
So far, VanDyke has created over 100 YouTube videos and some are centered on the story of “The Odyssey.”
“There were so many obstacles in his way trying to get back home. Things were not in his control and a lot of kids are feeling like things aren’t in their control,” he said.
The videos showcase a range of other stories such as fairy tales, tall tales and historical stories and past video topics focused on Superman, Tom Sawyer and Beauty and the Beast, to name a few, and tackled issues such as finding direction after a huge failure or low point, trading in selfishness/caring for others and embracing life’s storms.
“It has been quite a hit here and has been growing all the time. Through the use of powerful storytelling, I empower students to push through adversity, difficulties and challenges. Many of the stories, I rewrite some and adapt some to use to share something powerful for kids to grab onto. I always want the stories to feel fresh and new as if they are hearing them for the first time,” VanDyke said.
A student who said she enjoys the YouTube channel is 8-year-old Charli Hann, who was a student at Franklin Academy and who’s since moved to New Jersey. Her mother, Mandi Hann, said they still get alerts when new episodes come out and enjoy watching them together.
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“I think ‘Finding Ithaca’ is an amazing channel that truly helps kids (and parents) really get in touch with everyday feelings. It helps the kids navigate through trials of being kids as well as helps parents to be able to discuss potential problems kids have at school that otherwise wouldn’t be brought up,” Mandi said.
“Finding Ithaca” is an extension to the mentorship program that VanDyke started at Franklin Academy about five years ago, he said.
The videos are intended for kids and their parents and anyone can access it, not just students at Franklin Academy.
He recently started a Finding Ithaca after-school club in which students can get involved and act on the channel as well as do voiceover narration, he said.
“I like to do different things with every story. I’m always about making it feel fresh and new and have new takes,” he said.