By David Fong
TROY — Above the din of the normal school day — pencils being put to paper, children yelling on the playground and the busing of cafeteria trays — the baseline from popular recording artist Drake’s “Hotline Bling” could be clearly heard coming from a solitary corner of Heywood Elementary School.
Maurice Sadler was making music.
Sadler was making magic.
“A few years ago, we were talking about ways to motivate the kids for state testing,” said Sadler, the principal at Heywood for the past decade. “We tried a lot of different things. We tried a spirit week — we’d have a ‘Super Tester Day’ where kids could dress up as their favorite super heroes. We’d have a ‘Don’t Sweat the Test Day’ where kids could wear sweats.
“We were looking for ways to not only motivate the kids, but take away some of the stress that results from state testing — not only for the students, but for the teachers as well.”
In 2012, Sadler came up with the idea of making a motivational song — with his own lyrics set to the music of a popular song of the day — right before his students started state testing in April. He has released a new song every year before state testing, all of which have become popular not only with his own pupils, but with students and staff members throughout the Troy school district.
“I’ve always been a big fan of ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic and song parodies,” Sadler said. “I just thought it would be something fun to do to help motivate the kids and get them excited for the state tests. Since I did the first one, it’s kind of taken on a life of its own. A lot of the staff members have wanted to participate in some of the videos we’ve done.
“The more of these we do, the more people I have coming up to me and asking when the next one is going to drop. I’ve got students and teachers from other schools now asking me when the next video is coming out. It’s been a lot of fun for me, and I’ve had the full support from Mr. (Eric) Herman, our superintendent.”
His first song was a parody of “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. He followed that up with a parody of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” He followed that up with a parody of “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson.
Over the years, the production values of the videos — which are released on the Troy City Schools district website — have varied. He made his first video in his office with an iPad. Since then, other Heywood staff members have been involved, there have been dance numbers and he’s also partnered with the Troy High School journalism class, using the stage in the Troy High School auditorium and multiple cameras.
This year, Sadler went back to his roots, releasing “Schoolhouse Bling,” a parody of Drake’s song, alone in his office with his trusty iPad.
“This year, the words probably flowed more easily than they have with any other song I’ve done,” Sadler said. “Once I decided on what song I wanted to do, it only took me about 30 minutes to write out the actual lyrics.”
Sadler said he always tries to pick a current hit that will resonate with his students. Just to make sure he remains in touch with the younger generation, he usually tries to run his music choices past his teenage son and daughter.
“For my son at the high school, I think it’s kind of a blend of pride and shame,” Sadler said with a laugh. “When the videos drop, kids at school ask him if that’s his dad. I think part of him his proud, but I know part of him just kind of shakes his head.”
In addition to including motivational messages, Sadler also tries to include test-taking tips for his students into the lyrics — including making sure they get enough sleep the night before the test, eating a healthy breakfast the day of the test and how to successfully navigate through the more difficult portions of the state-mandated test.
He’s made several remixes of his videos and, several years ago when inclement weather forced school cancellations several days in a row, he made another video for his students to watch from home. That video, “Cold Out Therre,” was a parody of Nelly’s “Hot In Herre,” and included academic tips students could use while sitting around the house.
“As long as people seem to be generally excited about these, I’ll keep doing them,” Sadler said. “Anything to help the students.”
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong