New Milford schools faculty create music video with Dua Lipa song to encourage reading over summer

NEW MILFORD — It started with an idea to get students motivated to read over summer vacation. It ended with a three-minute music video featuring teachers and other staff members singing to rewritten lyrics of a popular TikTok and YouTube song.

In response to the New Milford Public School’s K-8 summer reading initiative and the Connecticut Governor's Summer Reading Challenge, teachers, paraeducators, tutors, administrators and other staff members from Northville and Hill and Plain Primary Schools, Sarah Noble Intermediate School, and Schaghticoke Middle School sang and danced to the tune from Dua Lipa’s hit song, “Levitating” in a video they created called “I’m Reading Baby.

The lyrics, written by Literacy Coach Megan Sylvester, include:

“If you wanna read along with me, I know a library

And it’ll open up your mind

I have a big prediction that the books will be your mission

And the reading don’t stop for life.”

The video was released Friday and will be viewed by all classes and sent home to families. There will be a follow up in weekly emails to all families at the end of the school year. For next school year, there will a possible celebration.

Getting kids motivated

Literacy Coach Lisa Morlock said at the end of every school year, staff looks for innovative ways to connect with kids and get them excited about reading and writing over the summer.

“TikTok and YouTube videos are usually what the kids watch,” Morlock said. “That was our ‘in,’ and I was asking my kids — who are middle school and high school age — about different songs.”

Sylvester originally wrote the lyrics for three different songs, and her colleagues helped choose which would be most appealing for all the students in the district.

“Levitating” was chosen because of its catchy beat.

When writing the lyrics, Sylvester said her greatest challenge was to think of words that would appeal to the older students.

“I am the K-2 coach and this was spanning K-8 so I had a lot of difficulty including things that attracts the 6-8 kids or the third- to fifth-grade kids,” Sylvester said. “My vision is always what will the little kids like. So, I was like caterpillars and rainbows.”

To overcome the challenge, Sylvester researched young adult books on the internet.

Once the lyrics were written, school staff members then got involved in the effort — and some even got their family members involved. The main singer in the video is the daughter of a school psychologist and the video editor is Sylvester’s cousin.

Many staff members used their professional development time to work on the video.

“Instead of the teachers being in meetings, they were able to participate in the video. So at the middle school, we had eight or 10 different videos for different teachers that wanted to participate,” said Elizabeth Stewart, instructional coach.

Staff was directed to play the song on their phone and then turn their video on to start recording.

“We were in a central office cabinet meeting and we all went outside and we sat in the front with books,” Morlock said. “For 30 seconds, we be-bopped back and forth.”

Other highlights while making the videos included the gym teachers of Schaghticoke performing a full dance through the gym, and how health teacher Alex Amaru wanted to be exercising with a book but staff “had a hard time making it look safe,” Sylvester chuckled.

Fifty separate videos are included in the main one. There are variations of one to up to 10 people in each, and they were recorded inside schools, on playgrounds, and at staff members’ homes.

“The motivation of it was knowing that this is going to be sent out to students and families and to build that excitement for summer reading,” Morlock said. “I think that is really the incentive across the district.”

Cathy Calabrese, New Milford’s interim assistant superintendent, said the video will appeal to children since they will get to see all their teachers participating in it.

“There’s those eighth graders that had Mrs. So and So, and they see them on the video, so that brings in their interests as well and gets them excited to see all different staff from the district,” Calabrese said.

Stewart said when the students see their PE teacher, art teacher, music teacher and principal reading, “it’s different than seeing your reading teacher reading. It’s showing them that you are a reader no matter where you are in your life.”

Creating the video “lightened the load” of a “really difficult teaching year,” said Stewart, when referring to COVID-19. “This was just our way of how can we create and launch this because we’ve been in such a unique year, and this is such an outstanding way to get everybody excited.”