While the dancing teachers drew plenty of excitement, it was the high school cheerleaders and football players that really fired up the young crowd during a pep rally last Friday at Harker Heights Elementary School.

With state STAAR testing around the corner, elementary school leaders took a community approach to making sure students are fired up to “beat the STAAR.”

Third-grade teacher Arlene Elizondo said a group of teachers began talking about hosting a pep rally the week before the start of testing and before long, the event included songs, skits and cheerleaders and athletes from Harker Heights High School.

Early in the morning, staff members surprised students with a flash mob, bursting into song and dance to the delighted surprise of students, according to teachers who took part.

In the afternoon, students ran beneath cheerleaders’ bridged hands to enter the cafeteria for the planned rally.

Teacher Wanda Richerzhagen served as mistress of ceremonies, guiding students through a series of songs, with popular tunes matched with lyrics relevant to checking your work and taking your time.

Fifth-graders acted out a scene on stage with “rabbit” rushing through the test and doing poorly, while “turtle” took his time and earned higher scores.

This spring’s first round of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness was conducted Tuesday through Thursday and included fourth-grade writing and fifth-grade math and reading at the elementary level.

Also on Tuesday, seventh-graders tested in writing and eighth-graders tested in math. Wednesday included the reading test for eighth-graders. Various high school end-of-course exams are also underway this week.

Thursday and today are make-up test days for various grade levels. More testing is scheduled in May.

“We want them to believe in themselves and to have confidence,” Richerzhagen said.

“We tell them to take their time and don’t be nervous. They are equipped with the skills they need. I think they enjoyed the pep rally today.”

“It relieves stress for students and teachers,” Elizondo said. “They were excited.”

Even younger students got into the act. Kindergarten students wore hats they made urging their older peers to “Beat the STAAR.” First-graders made motivational posters they placed in the hallways.

Cheerleaders led the students in cheers and participated, along with four football players in the songs and dances.

“We wanted to be involved in the community,” said Harker Heights High School senior Rachel Forrest, the cheerleader captain. “We want to pump them up about taking the STAAR test. That’s something we all remember.”

The former Mountain View Elementary School student said she remembered her school’s STAAR pep rallies. “It makes it more fun,” she said. “It made a difference. We didn’t dread the test so much.”

“We want to teach everyone to take their time on the test,” said fifth-grader Nathaly Rosales, who played the role of the teacher in the skit with rabbit and turtle. “We feel very prepared because we have awesome teachers.”

Fifth-graders in the skit said they were ready to take the tests and said the rally reminded them the end of elementary school is coming soon. “It’s emotional,” Rosales said, “because it’s our last year here.”

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