Tampa Bay Chamber President and CEO Bob Rohrlack read Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats to students last month.

Many young students enjoy listening to an adult reading a book, especially when that adult immerses the listeners into the pages and characters in such a way that they encourage imagination, creativity and fun. Unfortunately, not all children and youth have books at their fingertips, especially during the safer-at-home order as part of the global pandemic.

Hillsborough County Public School (HCPS) Board member Dr. Stacy Hahn developed Storytime Online, an early education literacy initiative that connects schools, families and the public to the wonders of fiction books, provided by Capstone and launched in 2019. Each episode of Storytime Online features local dignitaries reading exciting books in which children can follow along from the comfort of their own homes and access for free through myON.com.

Recent participants have included Sheriff Chad Chronister, Mayor Jane Castor, WWE Superstar Titus O’Neil and Dr. Hahn herself. Due to physical distancing orders, Dr. Hahn has been reading one book every day for Storytime Online on her Facebook page at 11 a.m. Those special episodes can be found on the district’s YouTube page under the Storytime Online playlist.

“As a community, we should be concerned about the academic frustration of our more vulnerable students,” said School District Representative Tanya Arja. “That is why Hillsborough County Public Schools has partnered with Hillsborough Education Foundation, the Tampa Bay Chamber and Scholastic in expanding Storytime Online to include special edition episodes with business leaders to run through June 30.”

The program began last month when Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Addison Davis, Dr. Hahn and Hillsborough Education Foundation CEO Kim Jowell welcomed the first leader participant, Tampa Bay Chamber President and CEO Bob Rohrlack, who read Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats.

Once videos are created and posted, Hillsborough County students and families will be able to access the recorded Storytime Online sessions through the district’s online learning platform (Clever) and on the YouTube channels of both HCPS and Hillsborough Education Foundation, as well as on the social media sites for Hillsborough County Public Schools, Hillsborough Education Foundation and the Tampa Bay Chamber.