In most second grade classrooms, singing and dancing would not be a part of the syllabus. But in Michael Bonner’s class, it’s becoming routine.
After his second graders failed an exam last year, Bonner knew he had to change the way he was reaching them. He offered them a deal: Pass the test, and they would shoot a music video.
The students passed, and Bonner literally made them into music video stars. Their first video went viral, even catching the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, who started a GoFundMe for the class and flew them out to Los Angeles, where they got to make a professional video with rapper Big Sean.
For Bonner and his students at South Greenville Elementary in Greenville, North Carolina, music is their secret weapon. The school has a high poverty rate, and some of Bonner’s students are reading at the kindergarten level. In order to engage them more fully in the curriculum, he knew he needed to motivate them.
“Poverty is not just tied to a child being hungry, it's a mindset,” Bonner told NBC News. “So when you are coming against those barriers as a teacher, you have to find different methods and ways to get around those in order to engage your students.”
Evidence that Bonner’s method is working is not hard to come by: He and his class are currently shooting their fourth video.
“He is an awesome teacher,” Principal Lakeesha Lynch said. “He's one of those teachers who goes above and beyond. He will do whatever it takes to make sure that his students learn the material and that they're motivated to learn.”
His students recognize how special their teacher is and how his unorthodox methods are helping them learn.
“That feels ... amazing, for me to pass the tests” said second grader Cinque Simpson. “He is kind of the best teacher I ever had.”
Bonner hopes his practices will help the students have more confidence in themselves.
“It shows that with everything that has happened, that sometimes when we do work hard … major things happen,” Bonner said.