Last January when I started my second year as a teacher, I made the point of hanging a world map in my classroom. I knew by doing so, the kids would be able to dream a little bit larger than they had before. They might ask questions and wonder about other continents, countries and cultures. The map led me to develop our theme for the entire school year, “We are the World.” That theme idea came about from the popular song with the same name, by Michael Jackson. It often plays on the radio in Samoa, and the kids have always loved it.
However, I also knew of another Michael Jackson song which I can remember fondly from my own childhood, “Heal the World.” Riding in the car at an early age, I remember listening to it on a cassette tape which got played over and over again. This past school year I decided that it went nicely with our theme, and hoped that in teaching it to the kids, they might be able to carry a new memory with them, about our time together.
In late September I decided to begin teaching my years 7 and 8 students the song. Each week I would have them work on learning a new portion of the song, which I had written on large sheets of newsprint, as well as on a piece of paper I had made and photo copied for them.
At one point during our song rehearsals, I made the decision to choreograph a dance for the song which I would teach to them. Singing and dancing are both a huge part of the Samoan culture, although I hadn’t utilized it as much in my classroom as I would had liked to over the past two years. So this final project gave me a chance to step out of my regular comfort zone and really leave a gift for these kids to remember.
In November they were getting familiar with most of the words, and it was time to start teaching them the dance. Each night I would listen to the song over and over again on my i-pod and rack my brain on different dance moves I could create for the song. The following day I would take it to the kids and have them practice the dance with me. There were definitely moments of frustration as I tried to keep them focused. I kept reminding myself that their excitement was in large part due to the fact that they don’t always get the opportunity to do activities like this with their other Samoan teachers, and that they were really enjoying this new opportunity.
I would always get a smile on my face after teaching a particular dance move where I heard kids saying in Samoan, how cool the dance was. They laughed, argued, and made up several times throughout the two months of our project. It was a great opportunity to have them work together as a team, especially requiring them to break their own insecurities in terms of girls interacting with boys and vice versa. For example, Samoan kids will normally sit with members of their own sex; the boys on one side of the room, and the girls on the other. So when asking a girl to shake hands with a boy during our song, I first got a lot of resistance, but over time was glad to see that they got past that and worked well together.
One night while laying in my bed listening to the song on my i-pod, I realized that we needed some props to go along with the dance. I got the idea to make a huge globe to hold up, and smaller ones for the kids to use. On a weekend trip to the capital I went dumpster diving for old cardboard boxes and found some great ones to use. Once back in the village I traced a globe and used left over paints from my house to make the water and soil with blue and green paint. In class one day I had the kids draw their own smaller globes which were incorporated into the dance.
Although this was my project, I wanted to include the other teachers who had always been supportive of my activities in the past. I went to them and explained our work on the song. I told them that I’d like to record it to show to friends and family back home. They were all on board and eager to help. They had the girls make flower headbands for the day of the filming, and had the guys wear flowers in their hair too (not uncommon for boys in Samoa for special occasions).
In late November we were finally ready for the big performance. The kids came to school that morning with a lot of excitement. It was a beautiful sunny day (during the rainy season) and we began the taping. I had also taught them “He’s got the Whole World in His Hands,” and we also sang “We are the World, with the teachers assigning Saulo to be Michael Jackson and stand out in front with a fake microphone. The kids loved every minute of it.
With the ocean as their back drop and a beautiful mountain to their side, they sang and danced with smiles on their faces. As I was filming I could see my fellow teachers were enjoying the moment just as much, and I was hopeful that I had passed something on to them as well. All the younger kids from all the other grades sat quietly alongside the school and watched on. I think all of us, teachers and students alike, got chills at some point during that day, as we saw all our hard work come to fulfillment.
In the end, I was so thankful I took the leap of faith and taught them the song and dance. I later found out that not only had the song touched them, but the younger kids who hadn’t even sung or danced to it. Several evenings I would be walking through the village and hear a five or six year old singing the song with near perfect English. So many of the kids from years 7 and 8 came up and told me in our final days together that they would sing that song after I left Samoa and it would remind them of me. Now that I’ve left Samoa, and am reflecting back on our time together, I now realize that whenever I hear the song, I will be thinking of them also!
Feel free the watch the video of one of our rehearsals for "We are the World." Due to the large size of the video file for "Heal the World," I am unable to load that video to this space.
Kids ready for first note of song!
The flowers looked great that day.
"Make a little space...to make a better place."
The boys and the girls finally got over their "fear" of holding hands!
Christopher, although one of my weaker students, had his moment to shine and did an awesome job!!
The smaller globes worked out well and they never fought over who got which one!
Great work, kids!
One of my teachers, Maria, acting as D.J.
All of us together after a very hot day out in the sun. We were all ready to head for shade!
In the classroom with our globes, standing in front of the "We are the World" bulletin board.
Saulo acting as Michael Jackson for our singing of "We are the World."