Times staff report
Jasmine Merlette, who teaches third grade at Sun Valley Elementary School, appeared on The Ellen Show on Wednesday and was given a $10,000 gift by Shutterfly via Ellen for her motivating work with students.
Her classroom video of students performing an uplifting version of “Old Town Road Remix” by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus ahead of their state test has gone viral with over 12 million views in the last month.
The best part of the story is that the students did amazing on their state test, Merlette said, and other educators have taken notice.
Merlette, who teaches through Teach For America, said the classroom remix was aimed to help with student’s test-taking anxiety which helped start a “movement” among fellow educators looking for creative ways to help students learn.
In the video Merlette, 23, leads her students in singing: “I’m gonna ace my test, I’m gonna raise my score, I’m gonna solve ’til I can’t no more,” to the tune of the ridiculously catchy breakout hit.
Merlette told “Good Morning America” this month that she came up with the remix with the help of her students, as they were preparing for an annual statewide exam “and one of my kids said she was kind of feeling anxious.”
“And I said, homegirl, we have been preparing for this test all year, you have nothing to fear!”, she said. “The video was kind of a motivation, a reminder, that my kids got this and they have nothing to fear.”
Merlette said she then worked on the song with the children, and many of them even practiced it at home with their parents, calling it a “collaborative effort.”
“When I showed them the video after, they were so, so, so excited,” she said. “It was just a lot of smiles.”
When asked if she ever thought the selfie video she shot in her classroom would go this viral, Merlette says, “we were not expecting that at all.”
“Even my kids will come up to me and be like, ‘Ms. Merlette, look at us, we’re famous!'”, she said. “My kids are just so excited. It makes me so excited to make them this happy.”
The video even caught the attention of Billy Ray Cyrus, who released his own remix of the song last month, and shared her classroom’s edition on his Twitter handle.
Merlette said what means the most to her is how fellow educators are turning the idea into “a movement.”
“The thing that brings me to tears is that fellow classroom teachers have been sending me their versions of ‘Old Town Road,’ but they have tailored it to their classrooms,” she said. “It’s really a movement.”
“It’s really keeping learning engaging in schools,” she added.
Merlette added that she hopes the video continues to inspire other educators from across the country to be creative in how they teach.
“We don’t all learn the same and that’s what it’s about. So it’s like, hey my kids like this song, let’s use it,” she said. “Or we’re going over words, let’s have a rap battle, whatever it takes.”
“Keep pouring into the leaders of tomorrow,” Merlette added. “That’s what we do it for.”
On the show, Merlette told Ellen’s guest host Wanda Sykes that Sun Valley is a school that serves communities that are low income. “That’s why I make sure that my classroom knows ‘when we come in here, it doesn’t matter what’s going on out there, we came here to learn, we’re going to do this, we got this and we are not our circumstance. We can do this, we can learn.”
You can find her appearance here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vogqpSVO0b0 and a tweet from Ellen DeGeneres/The Ellen Show here: https://twitter.com/TheEllenShow/status/1133791601099042816