By Stacy St. Clair
7:36 AM CDT, March 19, 2014
Tired of the frigid weather and constant criticism of Chicago Public Schools, Kenwood Academy High School students recently decided to show the world how truly “happy” they are.
And, as it turns out, their happiness is contagious.
A video of students singing and dancing in the hallways to Pharrell Williams’ infectious hit “Happy” has become a minor YouTube sensation, drawing nearly 14,000 views – more than seven times the school’s population – in just a few days. Produced last week on the South Side campus, teens perform for the cameras alongside teachers, security guards, administrators and the school mascot, Billy the Bronco.
“I’m very, very surprised by the reaction,” Principal Gregory Jones, who dances enthusiastically in his office during the video. “I knew the kids here would watch it, but I didn’t think anyone else would. Now we’re getting phone calls from alumni who have seen it and I’m getting text messages from all over the country.”
Students approached assistant principal Karen Calloway with the idea of making the video after she played “Happy” over the school’s public address system earlier this month to honor Kenwood’s six Gates Millennium Scholarship finalists. When the teens explained they wanted to create a sunny video to combat the brutal winter and the bleak view of the city’s public schools, administrators agreed to play the song between class periods for several days so the teens could get enough footage.
Schools across the country – including Amundsen High School in the Lincoln Sqaure neighborhood – have produced similar videos recently. Looking to establish its own identity in the crowded field of Happy homages, Kenwood’s version strives to celebrate the people that set the school apart.
Hundreds of students appear in the finished product, including the six Gates finalists and a student who school officials say has nearly a $1 million in scholarship offers after being accepted to some of the country’s top schools.
The six-minute video also features a fancy editing trick with school swim team, the English department performing a line dance and Bronco Billy busting a move with random people on 53rd street. It finishes with Kenwood’s choir singing their own rendition of the uplifting song.
The video’s producers, seniors Reginald Jones and Jalen Jackson, said they initially had to cajole their classmates into participating. Most embraced the idea, however, after Jones donned the bronco costume and danced merrily with them.
Jones – who, like Jackson, plans to study filmmaking in college – had low expectations when he posted the video on YouTube last week. Before Kenwood’s “Happy” hit cyberspace, his most popular video had received just 147 views.
“It’s cool to see how many people have been sharing it,” he said. “I’ve heard from someone in (Kenwood) Class of 1971 and all these other graduates. A friend of mine sent it to someone in Brazil. It shows what kind of community we have here.”
Jones and Jackson said the most rewarding part has been seeing how, well, happy the video has made people.
“The video captures the culture and community at Kenwood,” Calloway said. “It shows we’re a happy place.”
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