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Principal tries to spread smiles during shutdown

News Photo by Meakalia Previch-Liu Alpena High School Principal Tom Berriman is seen in a TikTok video playing on a computer screen in Alpena. Berriman uses social media platforms like TikTok to connect with students during the state-mandated school closure.

ALPENA — What do principals do when they are alone in school?

Alpena High School Principal Tom Berriman starts filming another TikTok video, among other things.

As school closures are extended in the state until April 13 amid the coronavirus outbreak, Alpena Public Schools staff are looking for creative ways to connect with students.

Berriman uses social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok to share information with the public. TikTok, a video-sharing social network used to create short dance, lip-sync, comedy, and talent videos, is one of Berriman’s more animated ways to connect with the community.

In one TikTok video posted on Monday, Berriman is seen moving on a chair across a hall at the high school, with a crutch in hand used as a prop, singing the Moana theme song “How Far I’ll Go.” Another video posted last week shows Berriman dancing up the stairs at the high school, with the caption reading “Dancing into the weekend.”

The videos on TikTok are usually comedic, where users can lip-sync movies or music clips. Berriman said he uses that platform, in particular, to make people smile and to bring a positive message to their day, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

“I feel that’s the job of a leader right now of any organization or business, to try to maintain a positive message that this will pass and we’ll get through this, and we all have to do our part,” he said. “I just love being around the kids, and that’s why this (school closure) is tough.”

From a teacher, to a coach, and now a principal, it’s all about connecting with kids, families, and staff for Berriman.

“I use social media as a way of not only connecting with the kids, but also showing them my personal life, and the personal side of me,” he said. “I think it’s important that the kids understand that we’re human and we have lives outside of school. We have personalities. And I think it’s important the kids see that aspect, because it adds a level of humanity and relatability to us.”

Berriman said getting those relationships built early when critical conversations need to happen is important. Students who see that more human side of a teacher, he said, makes it easier for them to have those conversations.

With numerous options to interact with students, Berriman said he utilizes the media platforms that students handle most often.

“Humor is a big part of what I do, as well, because it keeps things upbeat, and it just kind of brings a whole other level to what we do,” he said. “My wife is also a big TikTok fan, and she kind of sends me ideas, and just anything I come across that I think I can pull off.”

Berrimans’s social media engagement started when Lee Fitzpatrick, an Early College specialist and Title I parent engagement coordinator at APS, asked him to get involved during the many snow days the district had to take in 2019.

At the time, Berriman said, he and Fitzpatrick would work together to make creative and unique posts on social media to engage the kids who could access the internet. Berriman said he also made a few informative snow day videos when he used to work in Grand Rapids.

Since then, the social media-savvy principal has been on a roll, adapting with communication mediums as they come along.

“I’d say, within the last year, I’ve been more active on Instagram with the students, and TikTok within the past couple of weeks,” he said.

Humor is a must when Berriman creates most of his videos, but he said it needs to be done in the right way to teach kids a bigger message about digital citizenship.

“There’s a time and a place — your digital footprint follows you, and we want to make sure that anything we put on social media is positive and effective,” he said. “That’s another reason why I do it, to show the kids you can have fun and be humorous, but you can also do it in an effective way.”

In the meantime, Berriman said, families should focus on reconnecting and mental well-being during the time off from school.

“Number one, you have to find something in your world that helps your self-care,” he said. “Number two, just connect as a family. A lot of people are worried about school and keeping up, and that’ll all play itself out, because everyone in the country is in the same boat, but try to focus on family and looking out for each other and the community.”

Meakalia Previch-Liu can be reached at 989-358-5680 or mprevich-liu@thealpenanews.com.

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