By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Gary Lai and the teachers at Denny International Middle School in West Seattle are Internet stars. A rap video made to inspire students to study has become a YouTube sensation.
“I don’t know how it got so big. Kids and parents found out, and it spread,” said Lai. The video has had nearly 19,000 views on YouTube since it was uploaded on Jan. 27.
Lyrics were written by Lai, 30, who teaches sixth grade science and math at Denny. After graduating from college, Lai worked in the hotel industry. “I had little desire to teach, but I started tutoring kids at Fred Hutchinson,” Lai said. “I realized the work was more rewarding. [Teaching] middle school seemed like the right fit.”
Lai fashioned the lyrics to rap group Cali Swag District’s song, “Teach Me How to Dougie.” The “Dougie,” named after famed rapper Doug E. Fresh, is a dance move that involves casual shoulder leans and elbow twists.
“[The song] was slow enough and easy to do,” explained Lai. The pace of the piece made it easy for the teachers to remember the lyrics without interrupting the song’s flow. Instead of teaching kids how to dance, the song gives examples of ways for students to study.
“Teach me how to study” is not the first music video that teachers at Denny have put together.
As a way to motivate the students to do well on the state standardized tests last year, the staff at Denny put together another rap video, entitled “How High Can You Score,” based on Ludacris’ “How Low Can You Go.”
Lai wanted to do a better job this year, so he began working on the video in September. It was shot in December during school break.
“The production level was better this year,” stated Assistant Principal Chanda Oatis, who appears in the video.
“Last year’s video was shot with a flip cam, and the video was shaky,” recalled Lai. In making upgrades, Lai enlisted his friend, Will Braden, a professional videographer, to shoot this year’s video.
The video was released on YouTube. The faculty at Denny were unable to ‘officially release’ their video to their students because the video was found by students at Chief Sealth High School, who told the students at Denny what their teachers were up to.
News spread rapidly as kids went online. The video became an immediate hit as the number of views by individuals skyrocketed.
So, does the video equate to kids studying harder?
“It’s kind of hard to tell,” said Lai. “[But] they know the lyrics. They have a general good feeling and attitude about their school.”
Lai says that the feedback on the video has been generally positive. “Some kids are obviously haters,” joked Lai, referring to the few students who don’t want to admit that their teachers put together a creative video. “But they are glad to be here [at Denny].” Overall, the students have taken to the song and are proud of the popularity of the video.
Oatis believes that the meaning of the song has helped students. “Scores for Denny did go up in the [Seattle School] District,” said Oatis, referring to the students’ test scores for the Measurement of Student Progress (MSP). The MSP is a standardized test taken by all middle school students in Seattle Public Schools. Oatis noted that Denny’s growth in test scores was the greatest in the Seattle School District.
She believes that the educational success is due to the relationship with the teachers. “Kids connect with the teachers and have a great time with it.” She believes the video was a way to show school pride, while subliminally showing kids how to study. “We (teachers at Denny) are pretty cool, very educated, and want to feel cool to the kids,” Oatis added. “We think education is cool and want to reach out to the kids as much as we can.”
Oatis added that Denny U, the school’s homework club, is filled with kids. She also pointed out that there are academic camps during school breaks. Denny has a diverse student body representing many ethnicities and languages. Asian students comprise 16 percent of the total student population of 780.
Lai was never an aspiring musical artist. “I listened to music, but I never rapped.”
Oatis was surprised at Lai’s talents behind and in front of the camera. “He tells us he’s camera-shy …” said Oatis.
Will there be more videos? Lai predicts another video coming to motivate students for the MSP this spring. ♦
To view the video, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=gm5MdN71er8.
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tracy @ WSB says
How’d the video “get so big”?
Biggest factor is of course that the Denny team did a GREAT job.
Second, a little early media coverage helped. We found out about it from one of our 30,000 readers, who sent us a note on January 28th. We showcased it on WSB that weekend – I believe we were the first media outlet to mention it – and got some info from filmmaker Will and principal Mr. Clark.
Our friends at KING 5 (the area’s dominant TV news source) saw it on WSB and they then showcased it twice – first with a short story on the morning newscast, then later in the week, Mr. Lai and Ms. Oatis did a live on-set interview.
Glad to see it featured here at NW Asian Weekly too. Congrats, Denny! Looking forward to whatever you do for an encore!
Glad to see your comment, Tracy!