SchoolBook reporters spent Thursday morning on campuses that were in the news last year. Here is another in a series of dispatches on how things went on the first day back to school.
Just like the first day of school last year — and the second day and the last day, for that matter — Gregg Breinberg started his morning Thursday with a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts on Forest Avenue, in Graniteville, Staten Island. As usual, Mr. Breinberg ordered a large decaffeinated French vanilla coffee, then got back behind the wheel of his Honda Accord for the short drive toward Public School 22, for what would be his 13th “first day” there.
At 38, Mr. Breinberg is obviously no elementary school student, but he is no ordinary teacher, either — for one thing, he had a documentary film crew recording his every interaction. There were the giddy students remarking about his freshly buzzed head — no more ponytail and corn rows this year! — and the questions from parents eager for their children to land in his classroom, all of which could be summed up as the "Oscar Effect."
It continues to glow months after Mr. Breinberg and the student chorus he directs at P.S. 22 were catapulted into an international spotlight, performing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at the 2011 Academy Awards ceremony. Already pre-Oscar Internet sensations, thanks to the chorus’s melodic renditions of chart-topping pop songs that Mr. Breinberg began posting on YouTube in 2006, his fifth graders sang their hearts out at the awards and were subsequently treated to the barrage of praise and criticism afforded any fresh-faced superstar.
But the young singers, who refer to their charismatic director as “Mr. B.,” have moved on. This year, they said, will bring new friends, new quizzes and, of course, new hit singles to cover. (An informal poll on Thursday morning revealed Rihanna and Bruno Mars as early student favorites.)
Mr. Breinberg, whose musical taste veers sharply toward Tori Amos — her "Shattering Sea" provided the soundtrack for his brief commute — said that the indie sensation Florence + the Machine had expressed interest in visiting the chorus this year.
But first, there were new T-shirts.
“You recognize anyone on that?” Mr. Breinberg asked a petite fifth grader named Divina Hernandez, 10, after handing her a red T-shirt that fell to her knees when she put it on.
“It’s you!” Mr. Breinberg said with a huge grin, pointing to a graphic made from a photograph featuring Divina and a handful of other singers.
Divina and her friends vowed to wear the shirts for the remainder of the day. “It’s quite an experience, because I’ve never been on a T-shirt before,” Divina said.
Documentary crew rolling, Mr. Breinberg said that the most important part of his job was “seeing the kids get excited about music.”
“All the extra stuff,” he added, “is just, you know, cake.”