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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Whole School Flashed at Holiday Sing-Along

Whole School Flashed 
at Holiday Sing-Along:
Surprise performance wows 
Mill Hill students and staff
(Posted to 12/21)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Southport, CT – It seemed like just another annual holiday school sing-along until a gregarious woman wearing a red boa jumped up and started swinging her hips and gesticulating wildly. Surprisingly, a pack of students, many of them wearing elf and Santa hats, sprang to their feet and joined her.

The site was Mill Hill School at 635 Mill Hill Terrace in Southport and the event was the annual holiday sing-along, held mid-morning Monday in the school’s gymnasium. Traditionally, students and staff gather to entertain one another with classic holiday music. This year, 3rd grade teacher Joan Hellthaler had a little surprise in store for everyone.

The event agenda seemed like the usual fare at first, with the exception of the 5th grade band, under the guidance of Band Director Linda Zwickler, which serenaded the classes as they entered the gym and the children took seats on the floor in designated areas. Amie Arcari, the music teacher and chief coordinator of the event, had asked the band to participate as a “low-key opportunity to get in front of their peers and perform,” she said. All the band students are first year and started in September with their instruments.

Despite the band’s atypical presence, things still seemed par for the course. Principal Kevin Chase welcomed everyone – some 470 students -- noting, “This is your show. It’s all about you. We’re celebrating ourselves as students and Southport families.” He admired the students’ job respecting each other.

Arcari said her bit as well. “Good morning Mill Hill! Here we are at the big event that we’ve been working on for weeks.”

As in past years, the kindergarten class under the leadership of Miss King kicked things off, with “Dreidel Dreidel” and “Up on the Rooftop”, acting out all the action. Then it was the first graders’ turn with “Burn Little Candles” and “It Must Be Santa” with piano accompaniment from Arcari.

The 2nd graders were next up with “Oh Hanukkah” and seemed ready to launch into a second number when, all of a sudden, “All I Want For Christmas is You” began playing and Hellthaler burst onto the floor. Her class of 18 joined her and they performed what seemed to everyone in attendance to be a spontaneous, ambush dance and song set. Special Ed teacher Ike Nwagwu and 4th grade teacher Dennis Boskello accompanied on bongos.

“I think we’ve just been Flash Mobbed!” said Alcari to the crowd as the group finished and retook their seats, to much applause and surprised cheers from the gathering.

Hellthaler let Patch in on the secret. “We had been watching some Flash Mob performances online at snack time and the kids were very animated about them. I have a couple of dancers in my classroom and they thought about what they could do. Two weeks ago, we began doing our own choreography.” The goal was to create an unexpected “happening” in the middle of the traditional holiday performance.

“You’d be surprised about some of the moves the kids wanted to do,” joked Hellthaler. “I had to say ‘inappropriate’ a few times. We practiced in secret three times a day with the blinds drawn and paper over the doorway window. I was glad the boys were as enthusiastic. You don’t want to make them do it if they don’t want to.”

The response to the “ambush” was universally positive. “That was fantastic. We didn’t expect it. It adds to the show,” said math and reading support teacher Nora Zilliox. “It looked like they were having so much fun!” added paraprofessional Nancy Albert.

“It was great,” said special ed teacher Katie Cronin. “Joan’s always very enthusiastic with her students. I wouldn’t expect anything less from her!”

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