A Mesa teacher is connecting virtually with students through fun, interactive videos he creates alongside his sixth-grade son.
Hamlet Opazo has recited the morning announcements at Leman Academy of Excellence in Mesa since it opened in 2018.
But when the coronavirus pandemic shifted in-person classes to online for the remainder of the school year, Opazo wanted to find a way to interact with students in a way that would keep them engaged.
“I was trying to find something I could do for our students, our scholars,” Opazo said. “I just started filming myself and it’s kind of progressed from there.”
He began creating short videos with different themes. On Wednesdays, he and his son, Phoenix, generally use Legos.
“I enjoy helping put together the Legos and helping with the scenery and things like that,” Phoenix said. “I think it’s very important that kids should have something to look forward to everyday and it’s nice to be able to help with that.”
The themes often vary. His video has used Lego Star Wars and in one he played Indiana Jones.
Recently, he took students through a virtual time machine back to the 1950s and showed them how to make a hula-hoop out of PVC pipe to stay active.
Each video covers a different subject, such as physical education and he routinely tells students about a historical event that happened on that specific day.
Opazo typically films his videos the day before releasing them.
“The videos now and when I first started a much different,” Opazo said. “When I first started, they were five minutes long and it only took about 30 minutes or so to film. But now, some take four to almost seven hours long from beginning to the point where I send them off.
“I’ll have some ideas that I want to put in the videos, but I have to figure out what props to use and how many different locations I can film while being home.”
Opazo began reciting morning announcements at an American school in Kuwait, where he and his wife worked following his graduation from Grand Canyon University.
He found the typical, “good morning, go to class” message lacking in motivation for the kids and so, when he began speaking over the PA system, he added his own touch.
“I just wanted to do something to get our day going,” Opazo said. “It was just something like, ‘good morning, students. I hope you have a good day,’ then maybe throw in a little joke in there to hopefully get a little laugh. Sometimes they would come up and be like, ‘Hey, Mr. Hamlet, your jokes are kind of cheesy and corny.’
“But they still got a laugh out of it.”
Opazo and Anita then went on to teach in North Africa for a year before returning to the U.S. He then began working at Leman Academy while Anita taught music at their Chandler home.
Opazo said it’s refreshing to continue to have an impact on the lives of his students. He often hears positive feedback from other teachers or parents and students about his videos.
Many have told him his morning announcement video is something they look forward to on a daily basis and that the lessons have helped kids stay engaged.
Opazo said even children from out of state email him about an art technique they learned from one of his videos.
The support from the Leman Academy community motivates him to continue putting a spin on morning announcements.
“As teachers, or parents or even anybody who is a mentor or trying to be an influence on someone’s life, you never know what impact you will have on someone,” Opazo said.
“I look back on people who have been a big influence on my life when I was younger, and I don’t know if they realize how much they meant to me.
“We have a job to do as teachers, as parents and as mentors to the younger generation of giving them the best that we can to help them in whatever journey they are going through.”