PITTSBURG — It was a field trip the kids will never forget.
A group of second-graders from Pittsburg’s Los Medanos Elementary school not only got to see their hero, superstar Lizzo, live in concert but they got a chance to meet the rap artist backstage and perform their tamer version of her hit song for her.
All thanks to their teacher Dorothy Honey Mallari and radio station 99.7 NOW!, which arranged for the children’s tickets to attend the holiday show Poptopia in San Jose last week.
“They were so excited,” Mallari said of her 7- and 8-year old students. “For many of them, this was their first concert and they got to go out on a school night.”
The class first stepped into the spotlight more than a month ago when their teacher posted a video of their morning song, their own kids’ version of Lizzo’s hit “Truth Hurts,” and it went viral. Pittsburg Unified School District challenged viewers to share it and, as of Tuesday, it amassed more than 1.3 million views on Facebook.
“I’m very proud of Mrs. Mallari and the work she does with our students,” Principal Milly Estrada said. “I’m not surprised about the video because this is what I see every time I walk into her classroom. But, I am surprised the video went viral.”
And then came the news reporters — TV and print from the Bay Area and beyond — even “Good Morning America” only days after the video first posted. That was followed by an outpouring of well-wishes and even some donations of wobble chairs, gifts and other surprises.
“Hey kids, it’s Lizzo. I saw the wonderful video that y’all made. Your teacher is very cool,” Lizzo said in a message she shared on “Good Morning America.” “I wanna thank you so much for supporting me and I wanna let you know that you are 100% the future.”
Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” hit a record this fall as the longest-running No. 1 single from a female rapper. The original lyrics about boy troubles were not exactly fit for children, but the teacher said she loved the catchy song and decided to see if her students might like it too.
“I am definitely a big fan of hers and I loved the song since the summer when they came out with a Kidz Bop version,” Mallari, 32, said.
But the vivacious teacher, who has a background in children’s drama, dance and cheerleading, had no intention of simply writing new lyrics herself. Ever since she began incorporating a morning song into her classroom several years ago, she always makes sure the kids help out.
“I took it back to the class and got their rhythm and rhyming words,” the five-year teacher said. “It’s important for me to every year have them help me with it. When they are active participants in the music writing they are more likely to memorize it quickly. There is a buy-in. They are part of the songwriting and they love a challenge.”
Mallari said 75 percent of the students had the song memorized in one day.
The teacher begins each day with a routine of student-led chants about the classroom rules, then it’s straight onto the morning song.
“Let’s be great, ‘cuz I know we are great,” Mallari raps while dancing on a desk as some of her second-graders sing atop chairs. “I just took an ELA test, turns out I’m 100 percent that smart.”
“…Let’s take turns so we know it’s fair,” they continue. “In this class, you’ll never catch us fighting. Time’s up we need to start our writing.”
Mallari’s classroom also has a little stage, which both she and her students use.
“It gives them confidence to stand on the stage,” she said, noting the students have come a long way since the start of the school year when many were too shy to speak up.
One student who has stepped out of her comfort zone is Sicily La Macchia who was a bit quiet and shy at the beginning of the year, her mom, Andrea La Macchia, said.
“She (Mallari) is bringing out a really creative side of the kids,” she said. “It was something I was hoping for. I could tell she was very fun and spunky.”
Sicily, 7, said she loves the class. “I think of her as an angel,” she said. “She is like my fairy godmother.”
Dustin Albini, whose daughter Kassidy, 7, is in Mallari’s class, is also impressed.
“She really connects with pop culture and infuses what matters and relates it to the kids, so it really makes it easy for them to learn,” he said. “You see the values she puts into kindness. She teaches them to be good little humans and grow into good adults.”
For her part, Mallari said there’s a positive impact in incorporating body movements and song in teaching. She said she has a lot of English learners in her class and the music and chants are helpful when learning a new language.
“I think music is a universal language, and with all the ESL students I have, no matter what language they speak, it speaks to them,” she said. “The movement helps the students remember things and get them moving. Kinesthetic learning really speaks to a majority — if not all — of them to remember the rigorous curriculum and lessons.”
“They’re wanting to sing and dance and participate — it really does make a difference,” Mallari added.
The teacher said the music and chants also improve behavior.
“It definitely helps with behavior issues,” she said. “You are constantly in sync with everything and there’s no room for them to misbehave. In second grade they have so much energy.”
With chants for everything from math problems to writing and rules, substitute teachers say they have a hard time keeping up.
“They tell me it’s like having ‘High School Musical’ being in their classroom,” she said with a laugh.
The song and chants also incorporate concepts such as being kind, fair and helping others. With that is mind, Lady Gaga’s foundation, which promotes the wellness of youth, sent a representative on Friday to interview them for a segment.
“They wanted to share my story,” Mallari said.
Whether the kids understand it fully, they have become more confident from their music and speaking with reporters about their class, Mallari said. And last week they readily performed backstage for Grammy-nominated Lizzo, who sang along with them and smiled as they took turns hugging her, she said.
“She (Mallari) just really hit it on the spot this year with that song — and she does it throughout the day with her songs and chants,” said fellow teacher Logan Garcia. “She connects to the kids and she really tries to make every lesson meaningful.”
Some people dread going into work, but not Mallari.
“For me, work has been my safe haven,” she wrote on her classroom Instagram page at mshoneysclasshive. “There are times when I feel overwhelmed, defeated, and exhausted from the challenges of everyday life. But as soon as I see my students and we sing our morning song, I know it’s a moment for me to exhale, feed off each other’s energy, and give them the freedom to enjoy school!”