In a powerful example of how online social networking, youth exuberance, and digital media can combine to affect a nation, students at Florida’s Ocoee Middle School created a video called “Gotta Keep Reading,” an infectious message that has “gone viral” and inspired other schools and big-name TV stars to endorse reading as a path to success.
The video began when the school’s reading coach, Janet Bergh, thought it might be fun to do something like The Oprah Winfrey Show’s “flash mob” video in Chicago last year. Winfrey and her producers elected to kick off the 2009 season with a live open-air version of the show in Chicago, featuring the Black-Eyed Peas and other performers. The Black-Eyed Peas rewrote the words to their single “I Gotta Feelin” as a Winfrey tribute dubbed “Oprah Feelin,” and hours before the show began the approximately 21,000 audience members were taught choreographed steps to the piece to create a flash mob dance.
As to why she chose to create a flash mob video about reading, Bergh said on Oprah recently that “students have a lot of other interests. Oftentimes reading takes a back seat to that. …It’s not always real cool to be seen with a book.”
“The initial inspiration for the flash mob was the idea of involving every student and adult on our campus in an event that was a fun, exciting, team building activity with a great message,” explained Sharyn C. Gabriel, principal of Ocoee Middle School, in an interview with eSchool News. “We wanted to promote reading—as we always do—in a way that was motivational, meaningful, and engaging to our middle school students. The idea of any publicity was not a part of the plan. However, it has been a welcome, super fun, and exciting addition to the project!”
Gabriel continued: “Our goal was to inspire all readers, especially teenage readers. They love music, they love videos, so why not a music video about reading? We thought this was a win-win situation.”
After the idea took hold in the school, the administration next had to secure rights to the song, “I Gotta Feelin.”
“We worked through [the Black-Eyed Peas’] publishers to get permission to use the song. While we did not speak directly to the artists, submitting our lyrics about reading was part of the approval process,” said Gabriel. “We are hoping they are thrilled that they motivated and inspired us, and we do know that they support our message.”
After the school secured copyright permission, music and drama teachers began to write the lyrics to the group’s song and to choreograph the dance moves.
Students practiced for the flash mob video during their gym classes.
The “Gotta Keep Reading” music video features nearly all of the school’s 1,700 students dancing and singing while holding books in the school’s courtyard. It was recorded with the help of the school’s partner, Full Sail University, in December.
“Full Sail University [staff] very generously donated their time, their equipment, and their talent to this project,” Gabriel said. “They support our school in a variety of ways, including curriculum development and professional training for our teachers.”
Lyrics were changed to make reading the center of the song, and to include the refrain “This book’s going to be a good, good book.”
The video was posted to the school’s web site in late January. It also was posted on YouTube, where it went viral and captured the attention of Oprah show producers.
This month, The Oprah Winfrey Show highlighted Ocoee Middle School and its video by filming a segment on the school’s campus. Winfrey announced that she and Target would pay for the school library’s makeover, including new furniture, new computers, and 2,000 books.
“They managed to get almost 1,700 kids pumped up about something you know I love,” Winfrey said during the broadcast.
Ocoee Middle School’s Gotta Keep Reading Video
(Singers are the school’s band director, Nicole Nasrallah, and its former chorus director, Jamie Perez. Principal Sharyn Gabriel is the solitary dancer at the front of the group when the video begins.)
Winfrey asked the students questions via satellite link, and the entire school gathered in the courtyard, just like in the video. Eighth-grade students Alexis Fox and Danny Mora were on stage with Gabriel and answered some of Winfrey’s questions.
Gabriel said the announcement about the library’s renovations is a great surprise, especially because the library was built to accommodate 600 fewer students than now attend the school.
“We are very fortunate to have been given this very generous and meaningful gift that will touch our entire community,” she said. “The plans for the renovation are top secret, but we do expect the renovation to be complete [by] the end of this school year.”
Since Ocoee Middle School recorded the video, Gabriel said, school data suggest that students are ahead of where they were last year at this time in the number of books read and Reading Counts! quizzes passed.
“There were many lessons learned throughout this entire process, but perhaps the most important is the value of an entire school community coming together to work on a great project with a crucial message,” said Gabriel. “The other lesson we hope to share with others is to think big. Our students can go farther and do more than we think they can. They can be rock stars if we believe in them and if we don’t hold them back.”
Gabriel said Ocoee has received messages from schools all over the country and even from other parts of the world—many sending their congratulations for a job well done and asking for information on how they, too, can do a similar project.
“We are thrilled beyond belief that others want to spread this message,” she said. “We certainly hope other schools will think outside the box when it comes to inspiring and motivating their students to read and succeed. We collectively need to share this message with students all over the world.”
The Oprah Show’s Flash Mob video with the Black-Eyed Peas
The Oprah Show
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