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'Flash mob' at River Bend Middle

February 9, 2011

River Bend Middle School students started an awards assembly Wednesday sitting quietly in their seats.

But by the end of the assembly, most students and teachers were out of their seats, singing, laughing and dancing to music.

Unknowing students attended what they thought was an awards assembly, only to be surprised with an "flash mob," where students and teachers, dispersed randomly throughout the audience, performed choreographed dance moves and sang.

The flash mob, which started with a few individuals and ended with the entire audience dancing and singing together, was organized to promote cultural unity, excitement and a love of reading among students.

The flash mob was created to coincide with Suzanne Collins' book, "The Hunger Games," which about 270 of the school's students are reading during a group book discussion.

River Bend Principal Donna Heavner started Wednesday's assembly by recognizing the school's honor roll students. She continued the assembly with a presentation about End of Grade tests, which start in May for students.

What students didn't know, however, is that Heavner's EOG presentation was only a transition in the flash mob that the school's faculty spent weeks planning. During Heavner's slideshow EOG "presentation," music from band The Black-Eyed Peas started playing while students secretly planted in the audience rose from their seats to sing the words to "One Tribe, Y'all."

River Bend teacher Doral Catchings then snatched the microphone from the "surprised" principal and started rapping lyrics to the song's first verse.

"One tribe, one time, one planet, one race," Catchings rapped. "It's all one blood, don't care about your face, the color of your eye or the tone of your skin. Don't care where you are, don't care where you've been."

The song's lyrics, like "The Hunger Games," encourages perseverance, acceptance and unity.

"The lyrics fit in perfectly with what we're talking to students about," said Kae Treadway, RBMS literacy coach.

Teachers throughout the audience then suddenly jumped from their seats in the audience and removed their jackets to reveal they were all wearing yellow shirts emblazoned with "The Hunger Games" symbol and the words "One Tribe."

Teachers and selected students left their seats and skipped to the gymnasium's floor, where they started performing choreographed dance moves. The words of the song were posted on a projection screen for every student to see, and gradually everyone in the audience became involved in singing and dancing.

Wednesday's assembly was only one of many activities focused on "The Hunger Games," and reading activities will continue until the end of March.

"We're doing specialized skills that build reading stamina," Treadway said. "And students don't even know we're doing it."

Because students enjoy the hands-on activities so much, they don't realize they're learning and building skills as they learn.

River Bend's class schedule gives students a 45-minute enrichment period at the start of each school day. Fifteen River Bend teachers lead groups of about 15 students on in-depth discussions about the book and its theme of cultural unity.

Students also participate in other culture-themed activities, such as drawing, creating bookmarks, role-playing and creative writing.

Students will continue to read and study "The Hunger Games," and after Wednesday's assembly, the song "One Tribe, Y'all" is students' new theme for the remainder of the school year.

RBMS media specialist Staci Bumgarner read "The Hunger Games," which came out in 2008.

"I was just crazy about it," she said.

She loved the book so much that she shared it with Heavner, and "The Hunger Games" reading group started.

"Everywhere in school students go, there's someone there they can talk about (the book) with," Bumgarner said. "Whether it's another student or a teacher."

Students have enjoyed the book so much that Treadway said she had parents asking her about the book because they, too, wanted to read it.

"Even the cafeteria knows about the book," Treadway said. "They're serving black-eyed peas tomorrow."

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