Shani Perez ’04, an elementary school arts teacher at PS 51 in Manhattan, took a turn as a pop star with her song and music video, “Strut.” The song references the annual fashion show put on by her fifth-graders, and the video features diverse children walking the “runway” atop tables in a library.
The song and video were part of ONward!, an eight-song album funded by Old Navy and Pharrell Williams’ creative collective, i am OTHER, featuring teachers from around the country encouraging students going back to school. It was inspired by a music video that went viral last year, made by Chicago teacher Dwayne Reed to introduce himself to his new students. Darius Scott, Season 9 finalist on NBC’s The Voice, produced and co-wrote all the songs. Old Navy is using the album to help raise money for the Boys and Girls Clubs, by matching customer donations during back-to-school shopping season.
Perez believes the production team chose her because she teaches fashion design and because PS 51 students hail from 67 countries. They were not looking for professional singers. “When they asked me if I could sing, I said, ‘I’m very good at singing in the shower,’” she explains. “They said that was exactly what they were looking for. They wanted real teachers to be part of this.”