Torrance school music teacher Mr. S overwhelmed by surprise gift
By Rob Kuznia
The Daily Breeze
Posted: 09/13/2012 05:49:59 AM PDT
As a roving elementary school music teacher in the cash-strapped Torrance Unified School District, Jack Sollecito has learned over the years how to make do with less – and less and less.
Like a traveling troubadour, he often finds himself teaching kids how to sing and play in whatever space is available – the library, the cafeteria, empty classrooms, even storage rooms.
As for equipment: not much more than an acoustic guitar and a handful of music stands, which often are shared by three or four students at a time.
So when Sollecito – affectionately known as Mr. S – got to the Wood Elementary campus on Wednesday morning, guitar slung over his shoulder, he surely wasn’t prepared for what greeted him: a brand-new classroom filled with brand-new instruments, a full-on film crew, some beaming school officials and a couple dozen kids who yelled “surprise!”
And then there was the kicker – a guest appearance by John Rzeznik, front man of the Goo Goo Dolls, who exuded rock ‘n’ roll with his sandy, feathered hair, hoop earrings and leather coat.
Rzeznik picked up a guitar and played his 1998 hit song “Slide” while Sollecito – who looked the part of a blues man with a fedora, blue jeans and Converses – gamely accompanied on snare drums.
The entire event was orchestrated by Internet company Yahoo, which puts together a webcast called “Ultimate Surprises.” Each five- to seven-minute video aims to capture the moment of surprise for the recipient of an act of kindness.
“I’m speechless,” said the 40-year-old Sollecito, moments after the big surprise. “And these kids know – I’m rarely speechless.”
Included in the giveaway were four keyboards, four acoustic guitars, a xylophone, a drum kit and a bunch of music stands – meaning kids will no longer have
to share. What’s more, the music room – itself the brand-new result of taxpayer-funded construction over the summer – was freshly decorated and painted by the discerning eye and hand of professionals.
It all started when the school’s principal, Teresa
Lanphere, answered a cold call from a company representative asking if there was anything she could use. Recognizing the rare opportunity, Lanphere hastened to whip up a proposal that same day.
“I talked about how we’re a Title I school” – meaning a certain percentage of the students are poor enough to receive free or reduced-price lunch. “I have kids that can’t be in instrumental music because their parents can’t afford to rent an instrument or buy an instrument. So if you can’t present that opportunity to them, they’re never going to get to do it.”
James Tooley, the producer and director of the segment, liked the idea.
“We’d been looking for an arts program in the schools,” said Tooley, who actually works for a company called Fishbowl Worldwide Media, which produces much of Yahoo’s content for the segment. “It was right up our alley.”
As for Sollecito, Wednesday actually didn’t get off to the best start. A single dad who commutes to work, he woke up at 6 a.m. and did some laundry and a few dishes before hitting the road.
Traffic was horrible, and then – because of the secret event in his honor – he couldn’t find a parking spot. So Sollecito was a few minutes later than usual. Adding an element of stress was the fact that the principal had asked him to report straight to her office.
The unplugged version of the Goo Goo Dolls song was more a crowd-pleaser for the staff than the kids.
Francesca Van Swearingen, the school secretary, is a big fan who still has plenty of the band’s music in her iTunes account.
“I didn’t sleep last night,” she said, while Rzeznik tuned up, readying her phone for a video.
Although Yahoo organized the video – which will run in about a month – other companies pitched in to make the donations. They included $2,000 in musical instruments from the International House of Blues Foundation, $1,500 in furniture from Ikea, $2,000 in design from the companies Turquoise and Typhanie Peterson, and $300 to $400 in free labor from Valspar Paint.
As for Sollecito, he’s ready to incorporate the new equipment immediately. How does he sum up the day?
“Insane. Absolutely incredible.”