Wilton Public Schools‘ teachers returned to the district yesterday, Wednesday, Aug. 31, to kick off the 2016-17 school year at the annual Teachers’ Convocation. During the program, the district’s staff were treated to a surprise flash mob, a performance of the song “Seasons of Love,” from the musical RENT.

Middlebrook music teacher and STRIDE instructional leader Janet Nobles organized the effort. It included performances from four talented Wilton High School students–seniors (in order of appearance) Ben Senneff, Steffen Nobles, Julia Foodman and Erin Bronner–as well as teachers seated in the auditorium and accompanying the singers onstage.

Nobles credits superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith with coming up with the idea after he saw a flash mob she organized at Middlebrook the day before school ended last June, with teachers singing “One Day More,” from Les Miserable.

“A flash mob is a fun thing that brings people together. He saw that happen and liked the energy and emailed me over the summer, asking, ‘Would you be willing to organize a flash mob? Whatever you think is best, you’ll know what to do.’ I said, ‘Definitely!” she recounts.

“Seasons of Love” was Smith’s song choice. In the context of the theatrical show, it’s a song that’s sung after one of the characters dies, as a lament about how to measure someone’s life after they’re gone. But taken out of context, says Nobles, it has a completely different meaning.

“During Kevin’s presentation, the whole time he kept including the words, How do you measure the year? He included it in everything he discussed, on the slides. When it came to that point we scripted where the song would start, it came in magically.”

How do you measure, measure a life?
In daylight, in sunsets
in midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
in laughter, in smiles

How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?
In truths that she learned
in times that he cried
In the bridges she burned
or the way that he died?

How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love,
Seasons of love
Season of Love

“The message on the first day is really a double meaning–we’re constantly measuring test scores and other things, but really the most important thing is the relationships we create with our students. If you don’t have those relationships with your students, they turn it off, they don’t connect, there’s got to be genuine engagement with your students. It’s such a big focus in Wilton’s schools, the idea of the school climate, a sense of community, relationships, of teaching kids before teaching a subject matter,” Nobles says. “The message is, the things we remember are not so much the test scores, but what do the kids remember from the year, the people they remember and connect with.”

In casting the singers and musicians, Nobles says she knew right away she wanted to ask high school seniors to sing.

“There’s nothing that teachers like more than seeing kids who are raised through the system and doing well. Every teacher was like, ‘I had her as a 2nd grader! I taught him!’ That makes it really fun.”

She also wanted to add several teachers. At first she started by asking the different music teachers, but then she realized there were plenty of other voices who might like to harmonize.

“I thought, I’ve been teacher for 23 years, and I’ve talked with so many people who sing with their church choir, or people who are really into theater, there are a lot of people not necessarily teaching music who are still into it as adults. We had about 38-40 teachers, and the idea was to keep adding one voice after the next until it was so pervasive in the room that it took over.”

The effect, she says, was inspiring.

“It was pretty neat. Cider Mill music teacher Cheryl Ryder played piano; WHS orchestra director Marty Meade hopped onstage from the audience to play bass; Chris Johnson, who teaches at Miller-Driscoll, played the drums–he went through Wilton schools, and now he teaches at MD, so that was great. Things that happen spontaneously, it’s kind of magical. Something we didn’t expect, as each kid walked out, the teachers were so excited they started applauding. We had planned for clapping at the end but it started early. It wasn’t anything perfect, but it’s organic. For the end I asked the kids to jump off the stage, and clap and sing, and everybody in the auditorium was singing, clapping or both. It really got everybody going.”

Smith too, was thrilled, and of course gives the kudos right back to Nobles, as well as to the other faculty involved in the convocation program.

“Janet is amazing, we are so lucky to have her in Wilton! She gets the credit for pulling our flash mob together. I am so incredibly excited for students to return–we have incredible energy in the district, and our teachers are the absolute best. Hats off to 6th grade teacher Tom Koch for a wonderfully inspiring convocation talk, too,” he says.