The party continues: Kindergarten center staff grow year-end video into annual capstone
Published 7:01 am Sunday, June 5, 2016
Ryan Mayer walks through 16 rows of about 365 students on the Woodson Kindergarten Center grounds videotaping them as they dance and as some sing along to the song “Critter Party” playing on Principal Jessica Cabeen’s portable karaoke machine.
In front of them, Cabeen and teacher Brian House dance with Cabeen jumping up and kicking a leg out as she throws her hands up during the chorus:
“We are gonna have a critter party / We’re gonna have a critter party.”
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This critter dance party capped work on what has become a tradition for Austin kindergarteners and their principal, teachers and staff: the Woodson end-of-the-year video.
Filming a tradition
Woodson’s end of the year video has grown into a tradition at the school.
“It’s a really neat community-building, end-of-the-year kind of celebration,” Cabeen says.
The idea sparked in 2013, Cabeen’s first year as principal, when a teacher pitched a schoolwide video that would incorporate music to make something they could one day show the students when they’re seniors at Austin High School.
That first year, a teacher shot a 30-second video of Cabeen and teachers dancing to “Harlem Shake,” followed in 2014 by “Woodson’s Happy” based on Pharrell WIlliams’ “Happy” and then in 2015 by a Woodson-themed cover of “Pop See Koo” by Koo Koo Kanga Roo.
“Pop See Koo” took the video to a new level, marking the first time Cabeen and staff recorded altered lyrics for the video and the first time Mayer, Austin Public School’s technology integration specialist, recorded and edited the video. “Pop See Koo” has generated the most YouTube views yet — more than 37,000.
The video has grown into a great piece to show parents and community members, and Cabeen says it shows Woodson’s caring community and how they work together.
Teachers like Renee Gogolewski, Alisha Galle and Amy Learn now help pick the annual song based on the music they play their students throughout the year during brain breaks, brief dance parties through GoNoodle to get the kids up and moving around.
“At our age, sitting for long periods of time is just difficult to continue to have the stamina for learning,” Cabeen says of her students.
Along with being a capstone for the school year, the video has grown into a great community-building exercise as it introduces the school to people whether they have children or not.
The video also casts Cabeen as a local pop icon, as she’s had people approach her while shopping at Hy-Vee to ask about it. She was even approached at an Iowa Hawkeyes game by one student’s grandparents who recognized her.
‘“We loved your ‘Happy’ video,” they told her.
Cabeen says she was just happy to show off what she calls “the happiest place on earth.”
The Herald followed Woodson’s process in making the annual video:
April 26: Planning Party
Cabeen dials House’s room and puts the phone up to her ear, smiling at Mayer, Gogolewski, Galle and Learn as they look on in Woodson’s conference room.
“He’s going to freak out if I make him come in here,” she says.
Cabeen and the other staffers have just listened to “Cat Party” and are planning out how to turn it into Woodson’s “Critter Party.”
Cabeen stifles a smile and shifts into her best work voice when House answers.
“Hey, Mr. House, how are you this afternoon?” she says.
But the professional tone only lasts a few seconds before Cabeen asks if he’s with students and a teacher in the room whispers, “He’s just making it up.”
“Well once you’re finished with your group of imaginary students in there, can you stop down to the conference room for just a minute?” Cabeen asks.
It’s April 26, and the group is planning its fourth end-of-the-year video. The Minneapolis-based Koo Koo Kanga Roo has given the school permission to record its own version of “Cat Party” and even sent the school a musical track to help the cause.
The first step has been completed after the teachers wrote new lyrics that make the video Woodson-themed by changing “cat” to “critter,” since Woodson lovingly calls its students critters. The lyrics invite each of the school’s 16 classes, each named for a different critter, to a party.
Plans for the video call for Cabeen to sing and perform in the music video as one half of Woodson’s Koo Koo Kanga Roo cover band.
Cabeen is determined to get House to act as her partner in the video since he dressed up as a Koo Koo Kanga Roo member for Halloween and looked just like him. But she fears the math interventionist and Gifted and Talented teacher will say no.
“You may have to bribe him really well,” one teacher jokes.
But the group has a plan: Mayer will dub in House’s vocals to help convince him to act in video, while Cabeen will record and perform for her own lines. They’ll also record Galle’s class to sing on the chorus.
Mayer jokes it’ll be a bit like Milli Vanilli, the band caught famously lipsynching during a live MTV performance in 1989.
“That might be a selling point for him,” Mayer says.
Cabeen greets House when he arrives in a serious tone, “Hey, Mr. House, thanks for dismissing your imaginary group of kids.”
As he stands in the corner looking over the sitting group, Cabeen quickly jumps in with questions that build to her point. She first asks about his Koo Koo Kanga Roo shirt from the band’s website before asking about the other items from his Halloween costume like a black headband.
“The mustache was natural,” he says, drawing laughs from the room.
He’d spray painted his shoes gold, and the group laughs as they wait for Cabeen to get to her real question. House surveys the room, seeming to know something is up.
“Do you still have those gold shoes?” she asks. “Could you whip those out?”
“Yeah,” House says.
“OK,” Cabeen says.
“Are you going to do a dance?” House asks.
“You and I are going to do it together,” Cabeen says.
“Oh really?” House says.
“There it is,” Cabeen says.
The group laughs as House agrees. Cabeen explains that Mayer is going to sing for House — Mayer interjects the vocal style is more talked — who will lipsync in the video, comparing it to Milli Vanilli.
“Ok,” House says nervously as the group laughs again.
Mayer explains a bit of how the video will work with it being recorded ahead of time before House interrupts.
“Do you guys know how I am on camera?” he says.
The group breaks into laughter and a few of the staffers even hit the table before assuring House he just has to point to a room and mouth the words.
Mayer plays a clip of the song on his phone and tells House about what they’ll be doing for actions and how parts of the video will feature a split screen of him and Cabeen.
“What day is this going to be on,” House says.
“So you can put in for a sick day?” Cabeen says.
“So I can keep growing my mustache,” he says, drawing yet another laugh from the group.
Cabeen explains they’ll film the video in late May, giving each class time to practice their parts for the video, which they’ll film before the bigger group shoot.
They finish their plans before Cabeen tells House he looks like he wants to go back to his imaginary students — or maybe go vomit. The group laughs as House walks toward the door and says, “Alright. Thanks for including me on that.”
“Brian, it’s going to be fine,” Cabeen assures. “It’s going to be fine.”
Cabeen and the group joke about the video a few more moments before setting dates to announce the plan to the other teachers and to record the vocals and video, all while keeping up the jovial theme.
“Now we still raise high student achievement everyday while the kids are here,” Cabeen says. “This is what we do in the after hours.”
May 5: Recording Party
As Mayer finishes recording his vocals for “Critter Party” in Cabeen’s Woodson office, the principal jokes that she set up her phone to film him recording his line, even though he thought he was in the room alone.
It’s May 5, recording day, and Cabeen rolls her chair up to her office table, which is adorned with a large silver microphone running to a laptop. Cabeen’s hair is pulled back in a ponytail after the wind undid her morning hairdo during a pre-school dance party — a new morning tradition she started late this school year — with her students before school and she’s wearing a red jacket, both of which look fitting for her turn as a recording artist.
She and Mayer talk over the lyrics to “Critter Party,” which will feature his parts, just recorded, going back and forth with Cabeen’s.
“This could be an all day event,” Cabeen says as she gets ready to record.
Cabeen slips on a pair of silver headphones, bows her head to printed lyrics and takes a deep breath as Mayer plays the track and starts recording in the program Audacity.
After a moment, Cabeen jumps in mid-line in response to one of Mayer’s lyrics:
“— and caterpillars, do you want to come to a party?” she half sings, half speaks.
As Cabeen sings on and pauses for Mayer’s part, Mayer can’t help but chuckle. Cabeen sings a few more lines before losing her place as a laugh finally breaks out.
“Come on! Dang it,” she says. “Why can’t I keep a straight face? Why can I not smile?”
“You can smile,” Mayers says. “You can’t laugh.”
On the next take, Cabeen makes it all the way through. After finishing, she turns, smiles and whispers “mic drop” as mimes dropping an invisible microphone before laughing. But then as Mayer plays back the song, Cabeen recalls being a drummer in college — not a singer. She chuckles and grimaces as the recording plays back before she hears herself during a chorus and puts her face in her hands.
“That’s terrible,” she laughs.
“Oh my gosh, that is something,” she continues. “If I was ever gonna run for president, not now. We’re done.”
Next, it’s the students’ turn to sing, and as Cabeen walks to Galle’s Green Duckling class she jokes that she set the bar low with her singing low so the kids can exceed it.
In Galle’s class, Cabeen asks the students what they’re going to do.
“We’re singing the ‘Critter Party’ song,” one youngster says.
Cabeen tells them they’ll need to turn their voices off during the recording and she points at where Mayer is setting up a laptop and microphone.
“That’s the microphone that’s gonna pick up all your great singing,” she tells them.
The music plays on Mayer’s laptop, which he tips so they can hear it better. After listening to the first verse, the class of kindergarteners breaks into the chorus:
“We are gonna have a critter party / we’re gonna have a critter party / we are gonna have a critter party / so bring yourself and something to share.”
When they’re done, the class and Cabeen break into an uncertain applause, but then Mayer instructs them to clap louder for the recording.
“Can you guys clap and cheer?” he asks.
“That’ll work,” he says. “You want to hear the whole thing?”
A few kindergarteners answer yes.
“Maybe just Mrs. Cabeen,” Mayer jokes, eliciting a laugh from the principal.
Mayer plays the song for the students who listen intently and laugh from time to time at the song.
“I heard me,” one student says.
May 26: Filming Party
Cabeen and House walk Woodson’s halls wearing matching black shirts with the word “Koo” in gold along with gold shoes, and a gold-spray painted Twins hat for Cabeen and black headband for House, who has the mustache as promised.
It’s May 26, filming day, and House, Cabeen and Mayer are recording scenes with each of the 16 classes. Cabeen wheels around a portable Sharper Image boombox that looks like a rolling suitcase with a half disco ball on top casting colorful lights across the halls as they walk.
They stop outside a classroom, Cabeen hits play, and House jumps into action, turning animated as he says, “And Bears, can you please bake a cake?” He mimes mixing cake batter and then points into the classroom.
They go into the class and film the Woodson Bears turning toward House as they mime mixing cake batter.
Next it’s Cabeen’s turn to invite a class: “Hey, Chipmunks. Can you invite all the critters?” When she says, “Hey, Chipmunks,” the kids turn, stand and dance.
As Cabeen waits outside the next room as House films, she looks to a staffer who is watching them film.
“I’m never getting another job again,” Cabeen jokes.
After finishing the last room, it’s time to head outside for the all-school dance party to be filmed for the choruses.
As the students line up in 16 rows for each class, Cabeen and House pose back to back for a photo and then Cabeen mimes dropping a microphone. But then she readies to address her students and tell them how the video will work.
“I need a microphone,” she says. “I’m not going to drop it. I only drop imaginary mics.”
She tells them they’ll need to dance as to “Critter Party” as Mayer films them and, if they do well, they’ll do “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae),” which draws cheers from the students.
They play through “Critter Party” twice and then “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” as the students dance in their rows.
Students like JaMaya McGill gets into both songs, throwing their hands up in the air and shaking to the music.
After filming, Cabeen points to the FitBit on her wrist. Though it’s only a little past 10 a.m., Cabeen has 11,000 steps and she jokes she feels like she’s run a marathon or has been doing Yoga.
“I’m getting my steps in today,” she says.
House and Cabeen have one more task: Each has to use their arms and legs to spell out “Party” over five shots each.
“I feel like I’m on ‘Sesame Street’ now,” Cabeen jokes while spelling out a letter.
When the two are finally done filming, Cabeen walks up to House and knuckle-bumps him before making an exploding motion when she pulls her hand back.
It’s a wrap.