MOORE — Some Central Junior High School students are sharing a message of hope and understanding with the help of Katy Perry and a soulful math teacher who needed a hug.
The teacher, Victor Rook, said he felt displaced when 350 Plaza Towers Elementary students relocated to the Central campus after the May 20 tornado leveled their school and killed seven third-graders.
The transition was an emotional one for Rook, whose classroom was moved to a different building over the summer to make way for the new tenants. He said he felt like his colleagues grew isolated preparing for the new school year.
“We really weren't talking and connecting as much as maybe we should have,” he recalled. “I wanted somebody to come tell me we were going to be OK.”
It was shortly after that a colleague told Rook to “be the change you want to be,” he said.
Rook, a musician with a flair for the creative, took the message to heart and decided to direct a series of music videos designed to bring students, teachers and administrators closer together. He enlisted the help of an eclectic group of eighth-graders to produce and star in the videos.
“I felt like we were a little traumatized and there was healing to be done,” Rook said. “Emotionally it was huge just to be doing something creative and helpful for the school and for the kids.”
Dancing baby in video
In one of the videos, which features a dancing baby and Perry's pop music, students from Rook's video production class encourage fellow students to be aware of what others do for them.
The video includes appearances by a school cafeteria worker, security officer, janitor and other staffers who share a little bit about themselves and what they do for a living.
“Stay wide-awake and appreciate what others do for you,” Sara McLeod, 13, says in the video.
The message, according to co-producer Billy Wilcox, 14, is “don't take what you have for granted.”
“You don't know how long you're going to have it,” he added.
Other videos help raise awareness of breast cancer and literacy. Rook's students are producing a new video every two weeks. A video to make their “little brothers and sisters” from Plaza Towers feel welcome is in the works.
“Personally, it's nothing for the popularity or the fame or anything,” said producer Maegan Bryant, 13. “It's going to help people. Knowing that someone is there to help you is a great thing.”
The videos are shown in classrooms on Smartboards, and students will be able to watch them while they eat lunch just as soon as two new flat-screen TVs are installed in the cafeteria.
Promoting unit, empathy
“I think the videos promote unity, empathy and a sense of community,” said Rhonda King, a counselor at the school.
Tammy Baker, Central's principal, compared the videos to mini public service announcements.
“It creates an atmosphere of being united and everybody working for the same purpose,” she said. “And anything that a student created always is more interesting to kids than if adults do it.”
Baker said sharing the school hasn't been easy.
“As long as we focus on the fact that we're doing this for a greater cause then you feel real good about the sacrifices that you're making,” she said. “The reality of it is when you put so many kids in such a small, confined space, it's uncomfortable and it has challenges that come with it.”
Rook says student input is the key to the popularity of the videos. Also important is sharing messages of vulnerability, courage and tolerance.
“I want the real stuff, I want the YouTube stuff,” he told students. “I want the stuff that kids create. I want it from your point of view.”