Watch These Kindergartners Break out of School and Rock to the Ramones

Los Angeles teacher Arturo Avina’s students bring adorable movie magic to the childhood classic ‘Miss Nelson Is Back.’
May 4, 2014·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Just how fed up are students with worksheets and drill-and-kill test prep? Over the past few months, a clever group of Los Angeles kindergartners have been escaping their classroom and rocking out in parks and ice cream parlors to music from Madonna, the Ramones, and Janet Jackson. Don’t worry, there’s no need to call the cops. The pint-size runaways are doing it all to express their love of a classic children’s book.

Yes, folks, students at Olympic Primary Center, a 200-student school on the edges of downtown L.A., take center stage in a short film adaptation of Miss Nelson Is Missing. Led by teacher Arturo Avina, the kids sing, dance, and play their way through the magical movie rendition of the story.

The class began the project last November after Avina chucked nursery rhymes in favor of having his students memorize the pop songs that became the movie’s sound track. Filming of the video’s dramatic scenes took place from December to March. “Most of it had to be filmed with small groups during our breaks, so we had to chip away at it little by little,” says Avina.

When you watch the film it’s obvious the kids are having a ball, but they also grew socially and academically.

They learned social skills, such as how to collaborate to reach a goal and to be supportive and encouraging of one another. “They’d sometimes rehearse lines with each other at recess time or would high-five their friends whenever they nailed a scene,” says Avina. “It definitely increased student motivation.”

Academically, Avina says, the process of making the film helped his pupils gain oral language and literacy skills. Most important, the video sparked the kids’ creativity and imagination. “The students became actively engaged in their learning,” he says.

This is the second year Avina, who has been teaching for 11 years, has made a Miss Nelson–related video project with his students. Last year a creative retelling of Miss Nelson Is Missing cemented Avina’s reputation at the school as an imaginative force to be reckoned with. However, because they were new to Olympic Primary, many of this year’s students hadn’t seen the previous videos. Initially, Avina wasn’t sure he could replicate the project. But after they saw last year’s movie, the kids were so excited, “they stepped up to the plate beautifully,” he says.

Other teachers and their students are enjoying the film too. Avina has received fan mail from other classes and notes from other teachers who have used the videos to teach kids how to write friendly letters.

It’s wonderful to see a group of children who are so enthusiastic and eager to learn. Just imagine what would happen if more kids were allowed to “escape” from school.