“It’s a surprise every night," says one of Amy Brantley's students

By Michelle Boudin
March 20, 2020 05:27 PM

Earlier this week 6-year-old Matthew Marinello raced to the computer for his bedtime story. His kindergarten teacher in Waxhaw, North Carolina arranged to have all of her students use an online conferencing tool so that she could touch base with them even though they weren’t in school.

“I knew it was really important for kids to still hear me and see me and for me to let them know that things will be okay,” teacher Amy Brantley of Kensington Elementary School tells PEOPLE amid the coronavirus outbreak. “I know they’re hearing it from their parents at home, but I think hearing it from the teacher they spend so much time with is important too.”

Matthew says he now looks forward to his nightly chat with his teacher and his classmates and finding out what book they’ll be reading.

“It’s a surprise every night,” says the boy. “It’s fun when she reads books the books are funny and she makes voices.”

His mom, Valerie Marinello, tells PEOPLE, “It’s been so nice having her do this. She’s been checking in on them one-on-one throughout the day and then to see them all together, they were all just so excited to see each other. It was so cute.”

Brantley says it’s as much for her as it is for her kids.

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Amy Brantley’s students
Amy Brantley reading to students
Courtesy Amy Brantley

“It feels really good knowing that they get some part of their normal lifer back, even if it’s just for a short period of time,” she says. “But for those 25 minutes, I give them some part of their normal life because this is not normal.”

Marinello says she is so grateful her son’s teacher cares so much.

“It’s super sweet and so important, especially when right now we’re just surviving,” she says. “Matthew doesn’t understand why he’s not going to school. He asks 15 times a day when he’s going back to school.”

“I feel sad right now,” he says. “I miss seeing my friends and I like seeing them again.”

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Amy Brantley’s student

“I had one student crying. It took everything I had to hold back my tears but I tried to reassure that her feelings are normal and we will see each other soon,” Brantley says.

The 36-year old mother of two plans to continue the nightly ritual five days a week until they go back to school.

“I just can’t imagine not communicating with them,” she says. “They are extremely important to me. I have two kids of my own and I always say I have 25 kids total. I can’t see them all every day, but something is better than nothing.”

On Thursday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said families should expect schools to be closed for longer than the two weeks proposed last weekend.

As of Friday afternoon, there were at least 103 cases of coronavirus and no reported deaths in North Carolina, according to the New York Times. There were at least 15,650 cases in the U.S. and 202 deaths, the Times reported.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.

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