JAMS — Almost everyone has been subjected to the bouncy strains of “Gangnam Style,” but it’s not really worth it until you see several hundred middle school students recreating the horsey dance en masse.
Such was the scene at 10 a.m. Thursday morning at the second annual Heart Day at John Adams Middle School, an all-day event that brings the school together to take the focus off of Valentine’s Day and put it on a different kind of love: Love of self and community.
“Hallmark has not hijacked this. We’re taking it back!” said Nimish Patel, a member of the Board of Education, as he and the school children walked across the athletic field to begin the event.
This is the second year in a row that the middle school community has gathered in matching “I’m Possible” T-shirts to jam out to original songs and raps composed and performed by students, as well as the student band’s rendition of Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” popularized by the 1995 movie “Toy Story.”
Music transitioned to dancing led by a professional Zumba instructor who took the kids through choreography to the latest top 40 hits, with JAMS teachers acting as backup dancers on the far sides of the field.
Students then broke up into other groups to climb a rock wall brought in for the day and listen to Violet Palmer, the first female referee in the National Basketball Association, who described the long, hard road to her position.
Palmer then had to leave to prepare for the Thursday night Lakers game.
The theme of the day shifted somewhat from the previous year, which put more of a focus on redefining love to include taking care of oneself and others.
This year included a spotlight on the future, asking kids to explore their hopes, dreams and talents in hopes of discovering a passion that can translate into a career.
“Part of taking great care of her future is not just having a job that makes money, but a fulfilling job,” said Principal Eva Mayoral.
Mayoral is also the principal architect of Heart Day.
She approached staff, faculty and parents individually in 2011 to describe her vision for a different, better Valentine’s Day that got away from the chocolate and popularity contests and delved into meaningful topics and discussion.
This year, the Parent Teacher Association was prepared, and included over $4,000 in its budget to pay for the T-shirts, said Joan Krenik, president of the group.
The Science Magnet group also pitched in $1,000.
“This being the second year made a big difference,” Krenik said. “It’s becoming a big part of the curriculum. People really start to think thoughtfully, start making it a big month-long series of events and try to bring the parents and community to get more involved.”
In the weeks leading up to the day, classes held decorating competitions in the heart theme and worked with parents to help children identify their strengths as part of a “notes from the heart” series.
Despite the prior planning, which began in November, not everything went perfectly on Heart Day.
Reality flouted Mayoral’s down-to-the-minute schedule when the legs of the stage needed for the Zumba performance failed to arrive with the rest.
Her students appreciated the effort, however.
“We were here for the first year, and it’s more special. We care more,” said Sophia Turner, a seventh grader.