BARNEGAT – Now, this is a story all about how a song got flipped – turned upside down. She wrote a song, put it on the net and that’s how she became the fresh principal of Barnegat.
Russell O. Brackman Middle School Principal Shannon Smith is a big fan of actor/musican Will Smith and decided to bring some creativity to her school with a little inspiration from her favorite celebrity.
“With so many students adjusting to virtual learning, Smith, along with help from school staff brought some virtual fun in the form of a music video that modified the theme of the more well-known Smith’s classic situation comedy of the 1990s.
Will Smith more or less played himself in the NBC sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” which ran from 1990 to 1996. As the show’s popular theme song explains, fictional Will’s mom sends him away from his rough Philadelphia neighborhood to live with wealthy Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian in Bel-Air. The performer often had fun at the expense of his stuck-up cousins Carlton and Hilary.
Principal Smith knew her staff and students had a little bit of anxiety about the week to come and the implementation of the homebound instruction. “I have three daughters of my own and I was up until 1 a.m. and decided I’d do a music video, a rap that would be positive. I knew parents would remember Fresh Prince of Bel-Air even if our students wouldn’t.”
Smith said by 1:58 a.m. on March 15, she had completed the lyrics and she then e-mailed them off at 2 a.m. to Erich Wald the school’s chorus teacher for review.
She knew that the next day, a staff meeting would be held to prepare students for their new online learning adventure. “All my teachers were so stressed out about this so I said we’re going to do a video.” Smith recorded the song singing the lyrics to perfectly match up with the theme music to provide her message of hope adding a little fun to the current, ongoing situation of home education.
Wald said Smith used his class recording studio and “really rocked it. The staff didn’t know exactly what she was videoing in the auditorium that was filled with 75 of us but they knew she was doing something fun. Wald provided her the audio dub and Smith edited the video herself and the result is now history.
“We’ve had more than 37,000 views on YouTube and were featured on Channel 6 ABC News. It’s been fantastic,” Smith said.
The principal commented that she felt there was a need to lighten the mood and let her students know their teachers are there to help them adjust to this new method of learning and to cope with facets of their home confinement due to the COVID-19 restrictions to halt the spreading of the virus.
“I loved ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ and have always been a Will Smith fan! It would be pretty awesome if he saw this video. Maybe we can do a little remix at Brackman’s next pep rally,” she said.
Smith’s husband is a high school teacher and they have three daughters, ages 7, 4 and 1 ½.
“This way of teaching and learning is a first for us. Many of our teachers utilize Google classroom in their everyday instruction, however I have been blown away by how amazing our staff and students have been…across the district our staff immediately mobilized and worked together to provide the very best possible virtual experience for our students,” Smith said. “Each day, based on the feedback we have received from students, parents, and teachers, we are continually improving the experience. As always, communication and partnering with the community is essential in the success of our virtual learning endeavor.”
“Nothing will replace the face-to-face interactions, the sounds of our students in our classrooms and hallways, but in true Barnegat fashion we are one resilient family. After all – That is the Bulldog Way,” Smith said noting the school’s mascot.
Wald said that teaching music online presents a bit of a challenge. “The first few days was a learning curve. On April 7 we were to have a concert which no doubt we will not be doing. We were in the middle of doing the stage blocking and our art department was working with us. Now we are working on creating a virtual concert taking sound recordings from students.”
Band Director Dan McGrath said, “We have a Google Classroom set up for each of our Band and Chorus Programs, just like every core subject in our building. During our ‘virtual school day,’ we make ourselves available in case our students have any questions or concerns performing their concert music on their own. I’ve personally made an effort to also bring band supplies and copies of music to families’ houses in case their child left anything in school with the buildings being closed.”
Smith noted that “our play, band and chorus concerts have all been postponed as well as Project Aware. Our students and staff have worked so hard preparing for these upcoming events. My heart breaks for them. Whenever school resumes, we are going to work very hard at making these events happen for our students.”
Superintendent Brian Latwis said, “Shannon has tremendous energy and passion. Her upbeat personality really sets the tone for her building. When I first saw the video, I was not surprised – although that may have been new to everyone who is watching the video, it was fairly typical from such a talented and caring member of our team.”