Enslen Elementary’s 369 students – minus one – practiced words and motions to a special song every day for months. On Thursday, at the annual school open house, all that practice paid off.
To the music of Katy Perry’s “Roar,” a campuswide flash mob formed on the blacktop to sing and dance in honor of second-grader Drew Shank and his family.
Drew’s mom, Sarah Shank, called the performance “absolutely incredible. And it’s really not the only thing – the school has been so supportive all year long. It’s phenomenal, and it’s given us a lot of strength getting through this.”
Drew’s fight against brain cancer has kept him out of class for most of the school year, but his school family has kept him there in spirit, said Enslen Principal Kim West.
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“While Drew has not been able to spend more than a handful of days on our school site this year, he remains a part of us,” West said via email. “Feeling helpless, the Enslen community implemented the ‘Drew Crew’ to provide support, love and well wishes on a continuous basis for our Eagle Fighter.”
Weekly visits from a recently retired teacher help keep Drew’s studies going. Stephanie Orona – his teacher if he were able to attend – calls Drew’s name on the daily roll, and students shout, “Go, Giants!” to hail Drew’s favorite baseball team.
Sarah Shank said she’s so appreciative of Orona’s inclusion of Drew, who’s not even officially on her student roster. “She’s not responsible for him, but has completely taken responsibility for him,” Shank said. She said Drew “finishes his last treatment, his last radiation, next Friday, so we’re hoping – he’s hoping – he can spend the last two weeks of school in class.”
All this support for Drew “began with a neighborhood lemonade stand coordinated by an Enslen family, where visitors not only could donate toward medical bills but leave a note to encourage Drew,” West said. More than 100 Drew Crew shirts were sold, featuring a panda knocking one out of the park. Students wear the shirts every Friday, and some wear orange and black wristbands through the week.
“Art projects are sent home for Drew to design, and added to the student work wall. (Orona) organized a class quilt for Drew at Christmastime filled with student-drawn pictures of the Grinch to keep Drew warm through his recovery,” West said.
The school wrote notes to fill a Christmas-light garland and decorated his bedroom for his return from the hospital, then walked to his house and sang Christmas carols from the front yard when he was unable to leave. Valentines from schoolmates covered his hospital bed.
The flash mob was Orona’s idea for a lasting memory to help Drew through the radiation portion of his treatment, West said. West, chorus teacher Jeanne Moore and parent Amber Grover wrote new words and choreographed the production. Chorus students rehearsed and learned the Drew version of “Roar” through January, then helped train their classmates starting in February.
Initially, the flash mob was going to be a surprise for Drew. But “he’s pretty quiet and does not like to be in the limelight with all eyes on him,” his mom said. Eventually, it was decided the performance would be given for all families who attended Thursday’s school open house, with no one announcing that Drew was the honoree. Still, his name was sung several times, making Drew the subject of Perry’s lyrics about having “the eye of the tiger” and being a champion and a fighter.
Sarah Shank let her son know that the song would be about him. “But because (the flash mob performance) was for all the parents, he was totally good with that.”
Instructional aide Cathy Eldredge said she’s seen students, wherever they are on campus, stop and start singing and moving to the music every day at 2:15 p.m. For her, it epitomizes the family atmosphere on campus, she said. “What school does this?”
“We have been able to videotape our chorus and entire school singing and dancing as a reminder to Drew and the entire Shank family that all of Enslen Elementary is sending love and support each and every day,” she said.