As a first-year teacher with Teach For America at Sun Valley Elementary School in Birmingham, Alabama, Jasmine Merlette is determined to find unique ways to transfer information to her third grade students.
After one of her students shared how nervous she was over the class’ end of year assessments, she came up with a creative way to motivate them and build their confidence — through song.
Not just any song, the wildly successful country hit by Lil Nas X, Old Town Road.
Merlette told Because of Them We Can how it all came together.
“Music is a fun and easy way to remind them that they possess the tools for success,” she said. She continued, “A fellow teacher and I provided a few lines of the lyrics to get the children started. I then worked with my class to develop the concept into the song and video you see today. Their enthusiasm is evident because my children are singing their own words. They love their song.”
The students’ song was a success, but for Merlette, the lyrics are more than just something to recite.
"My favorite part of the song is ‘Education is that swag. Can’t nobody stop me from learning.’ It’s a call to action to empower not just yourself, but those around you as well, especially our youth, because they need us.”
The remake caught the attention of the creator Lil Nas X and helped bolster the children’s confidence with his retweet and acknowledgement.
i’m cheesing hard as hell watching this. this beautiful lol https://t.co/em0RUX5cqX— nope (@LilNasX) May 2, 2019
“One of my students said, ‘Ms. Merlette, he saw our classroom! He saw our classroom!’ And to me, that validation is the most important part of this whole experience. The world got a glimpse of what our classroom is like, seeing how much happiness can be filled in schools. As teachers, we are here to serve. We need to make sure our students feel empowered, and that they can reach their goals”
Merlette was also just as excited and proud of the viral validation.
“It is so humbling that our video went viral. It was not the intention when I posted it, and frankly I am extremely surprised (but delighted) by the reaction it has gotten. You cannot put a price on someone co-signing your dreams. Educators experience a multitude of challenges every day, so being a teacher is not for the weak. But it is worth it when I see a fellow classroom in California perform the song, or see a tweet from an adult in college saying the song motivated them to push through finals and continue, or to see a comment on Facebook saying that this video encouraged them to become an educator, or to see others wishing they had this experience for themselves growing up or for their children now. That’s what it’s all about.”
Kudos to you, Ms. Merlette, to the administrators who helped you and to all of the educators in the classrooms working to find creative ways to let the next generation know that their greatness exists and matters. We know your third class will ace their test and they’ll always remember this experience.