Sandy Pope's fifth grade class performed their final rendition of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," an annual favorite, on Wednesday morning before the school. Aftert 30 years at Willow Elementary and 40 years in the district, Pope is retiring at the end of this year.
The 'Thriller' program began 15 years ago when Pope was looking for something to spice up her annual Halloween poem-reading program.
"My daughter was in dance class at the time and was learning 'Thriller,'" she said. "I thought the dance was so cute that I asked the dance teacher to come and teach it to my students. It seemed like the perfect ending to the show."
Vicki Rosemont, a one-time Willow parent with a musical theater background, took on the choreography of the show 13 years ago. She now team teaches with Pope during the school year and appears at the beginning of each show emerging from a coffin in various costumes.
Rosemont admits teaching the dance initially was a challenge. "I wondered how can I recreate the dance wih the same moves yet bring it down to their level and do it in a short time," said Rosemont.
Rehearsal for the show begins in early October and is practiced during recess and physical education periods.
"Many of these kids have never done any kind of dance movements ... but they are always so excited to learn it," she said.
The year Michael Jackson died, Pope dedicated the performance to the King of Pop.
"We announced at the beginning of the show that it was in honor of [Jackson], which made it particularly poignant," she said.
Many of the kids say they can't wait to do the dance once they are assigned to Pope's class.
"I really wanted to be in Mrs. Pope's class," said Joey Elbaum, 10. "I was super excited ... At first I wasn't sure that we could pull it off. But I think we were good."
Roxanne Chevalier, 10, said she feels sad that the annual performance is ending.
"It's really sad that other kids won't get the chance to be in this amazing show," she said.
Roxanne's mother, Caryn Chevalier, is also sad to see the veteran teacher make her final curtain call.
"She puts her heart and soul into this school, and we're going to miss her," she said.
Over the past three years, dozens of 'Thriller' alumni have returned to the school to dance encore presentations during the evening performances. This year, Pope said the stage was was packed "with at least 70 people who all remembered the steps."
Pope has mixed emotions about her retirement but feels it's time for her to move on.
"It's bittersweet," she said. "I do want to move on and do other things, but it's sad to be leaving. It's always nice to know that you've made a difference."