The Day The Ellen DeGeneres Show Took Over My Classroom

A few weeks ago, Tara Prieto MAT ’11 got the surprise of a lifetime. After decades in another industry, Tara recently changed careers and is now a second-year fifth grade teacher at Saint Brendan School in Los Angeles. Tara’s story, detailed below, is quite possibly the most inspiring testament to keep it up — to keep doing what you’re doing. Whatever you do in life, it matters. And you never know who’s listening.

Here is Tara Prieto’s story:

Back in December The Ellen DeGeneres Show asked students to write in about their teachers. My students told me about it, and a handful of them asked me if they could stay in at recess and write letters. I honestly did not have the heart to tell them that they were probably wasting their time. After all, we had written letters to the troops that went unanswered, and we had written letters to other fifth grade classes around the country that had also been ignored.

They printed their letters out and I had the chance to see what they had written. I was floored. Though they didn’t exactly use the proper English that I had been teaching them, their messages were sincere and very touching. Christmas vacation came and went, and one of the students mentioned how, once again, their letters were ignored. I reminded them that there were probably thousands of children around the country who had written in about their teachers and that their efforts were totally appreciated by me.

Fast forward to March when I received a text message from a parent who said, “I just got off the phone with The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and they are going to call you. You better pick up!” Moments later, my phone rang. I was preparing my students for physical education (P.E.) class, so I decided it was OK to answer my phone. “Hi, my name is Ian from The Ellen Show. We got a letter from one of your students and were wondering if we could ask you a few questions.” The entire class erupted in screams when they heard me say, “Why, yes, of course I would be happy to talk to The Ellen Show!”

As soon as the excitement died down, I made arrangements to be interviewed later that day while the kids were in gym class. During the interview, we talked about how much our students love the show, and we talked about how much they LOVE Sophia Grace and Rosie, two little rappers from England who appear regularly on the show. At the end of our chat, the Ellen rep asked if he could speak with our principal. I gave him her information and didn’t think about it again until…

Two weeks later, two little girls burst into my classroom with cameramen and producers during our weekly spelling test! Just as I read the word “determination,” my students and I got the surprise of our lives! Our visitors screamed, “Miss Prieto, we’re taking over your classroom!!” At that point all I could say was, “I guess our spelling test is cancelled!” The students went crazy, crumpling up their tests and giving each other high fives. It was bananas! No fewer than three of my students were in tears — tears of joy! As soon as everyone calmed down, Sophia Grace and Rosie presented me with a crown and a tutu, and a token of appreciation on behalf of my students — a weekend at a Beverly Hills hotel and spa treatments! The fun was just beginning, however.

After the gifts, my students spent about a half hour with our guests, asking them lots and lots of questions like, “Do you like being on television?”, “What’s your favorite subject in school?” and “Do you have any pets?” The girls were so full of energy and even treated us to a performance of the rap song that first got Ellen’s attention. We had a blast.

When it was time for the girls to go, we said our goodbyes and it was impossible to get my students to calm down. Moments after they left our room, our guests came over the loudspeaker and announced, “We took over Miss Prieto’s classroom, and now we are taking over the school!” We were in shock! We were instructed to go to our gym.

When we arrived, we saw a huge screen set up and there was a popcorn machine, cotton candy and coconut water for every student! For 90 minutes, the school screened the not-yet-released full-length movie that Sophia Grace and Rosie will release next month. When the movie was over, students had a chance to snap pictures and express thanks to our two guests. It was a magical experience that undoubtedly will remain in our students’ memories for a lifetime.

So there you have it — bookmark this page and read it next time you’re having a hard day. Check back soon, as we’ll post more information once Tara Prieto’s classroom surprise airs on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which we think will be sometime in early May.

Have you ever had a life-changing event happen in your classroom? Share your experiences in the comments below!