With the entire Roosevelt Elementary School student body getting in place on the yard, a group of girls at one end of the front row leaned forward and shouted a directive down the line:
They weren’t actually going to read during this particular activity Friday morning, but they were preparing to do their best impressions for the cameras.
With books in hand, hundreds of children performed a choreographed flash mob to celebrate the fifth annual Read-A-Thon at the Montana Avenue school.
The dance was arranged to a parody of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” complete with lyrics about reading that students had a hand in submitting, compiling and recording.
The annual performance was a much smaller operation when it started five years ago, but it has grown into a popular tradition for the campus community.
“We were trying to figure out a big celebration to get the whole school excited and involved in reading,” said dance instructor Kyra Richards, who was in charge of choreography. “It was going to be a one-year thing, but everybody loved it so much that we keep doing it.”
In the weeks leading up to the flash mob, students voted for one of five pop songs and provided lyrical bits that were mashed into one fluid tune. Previous editions of the dance featured parodies of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” and Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.”
“The kids are gonna read, read, read, read, read, the teachers are gonna teach teach teach teach teach,” went this year’s catchy chorus. “Read-A-Thon, Read-A-Thon, hey, hey!”
After fifth-grade student Nerea Cabana and others finished a recording of the “Shake It Off” remix, Richards went around to all of the Roosevelt Elementary classes and taught a series of simple dance moves that the children could execute while holding a book.
On Jan. 21, designated dance captains assisted by demonstrating the choreography to their fellow students during assemblies.
The song and lyrics were posted on the school website shortly thereafter, and a YouTube video with choreography instructions was published Jan. 25. In a recent letter to parents, principal Natalie Burton said the supplemental material could be used to engage kids in conversations about reading.
On the morning of the performance, students walked to the central yard in coordinated fashion and took seats on the ground in grade-level categories. Meanwhile, parents scurried onto the campus to find prime viewing spots, many of them ready with cameras and smartphones to capture the spectacle.
An official video is being made as well. Several parents monitored HD cameras at spots throughout the yard, including on the roofs of nearby buildings, and the footage will be posted to YouTube after editing. The students performed the flash mob twice.
“I’ve been here for six years, including kindergarten, and it’s really fun every year,” said fifth-grade student Maddie Landon, who was holding a copy of Lois Lowry’s “Number the Stars,” the book she’s currently reading. “Being a dance captain is even more fun because you get to learn about what goes on behind the scenes, kind of like you’re on a movie.”
Added fifth-grade student Jordyn Feldman: “I really enjoyed it. But I feel kind of sad that it’s my last one.”
If Olivia Landon’s assessment was any indication, though, then the Read-A-Thon flash mob has made an impact that will last beyond graduation from elementary school.
“For some kids reading might be boring,” the fifth-grade student said. “But if you read books you might like, then it’s actually kind of fun.”
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, email@example.com or on Twitter.