Ridgeview Elementary School principal Ben Hutley

Ridgeview Elementary School principal Ben Hutley stars as a taco in one of the schools videos about its ongoing lunch program in the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown.

Of all the things the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, a school principal wearing a chicken hat singing about chicken nuggets is one of the stranger outcomes.

But that’s just what has happened at Ridgeview Elementary school in Colfax, a central Illinois district which introduced some fun weekly lunch videos for its 280 rural students.

Principal Ben Hutley is the lead singer in weekly videos that feature a food on the lunch menu for students that day.

“They bring positivity,” Hutley said of the comical songs and dances.

The videos, which air on Thursdays, are taken at the school, giving students a chance to see inside the hallways and some of their favorite spots while watching safely from home. The staff distance themselves for filming by using green screen video functions to interact in the songs.

The school has embraced technology in distributing classroom work, but also added this bit of fun that has resulted in thousands of views of their YouTube videos. The videos include an ode to chicken nuggets, dancing pancakes, talking tacos and the April 29 video that saluted vegetables with Hutley dressed as a giant carrot.

“We pretty much had to rewrite the book on education,” said Ridgeview School District 19 Superintendent Erik Young.

The classrooms were closed to students in March as part of the safety precautions during the pandemic and will remain closed, with homeschooling continuing until the end of school on May 15.

Hutley calls Alicia Bottles “the driving force” behind social media projects. Bottles is an administrative assistant and works with Barb Whiteman, the superintendent’s administrative assistant, and cafeteria manager Carolyn Jent to help develop the song and videos.

The weekly process starts with Jent selecting a video theme or song and menu item that complements the theme. District school buses have continued to deliver the students’ lunches on Tuesdays and Thursdays to the homes of all participants. Young says a summer food program will start this year for the first time too.

Young jokes that he just does what he is told for the videos.

“Alisha walks in and says this is what we are doing and I have no time to come up with an excuse,” he said.

The superintendent was dressed up as a robot in one video and portrayed a cheeseburger in another.

Hutley sad it’s something positive and fun. When he visits with parents they often tell him that their children keep singing “the chicken nuggets song.”

Another regular video feature for the school is the pledge of allegiance. Students record themselves saying it at home and send in the video clip. That activity bring normalcy to school-outside-school with an activity that Hutley led every morning when school was in session.

The district has 600 students from small towns around Anchor, Arrowsmith, Cooksville, Colfax and Saybrook.

High school seniors aren’t neglected in this district either. Ridgeview High School joined in with a statewide celebration of high school seniors, first responders and others where cars drove up to the school on a Friday night with lights on at a designated time.

“It was fantastic,” Hutley said.

Young said an in-person graduation event is being planned for June or July.

“We’re still holding out for a face to face graduation,” Young said. No word yet if dancing pancakes will be in attendance.

On the web:

Check out Ben Hutley’s songs on YouTube at bit.ly/3fsMqRC

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.