See the video, photos and a story about Jesse Ruben's performance at the Smyrna school and the inspiration for his song "We Can" which led to the "We Can Project," featured on NBC's "Today" show.
Singer-songwriter Jesse Ruben visited Sunnyside Elementary May 17 to perform his songs that have been the inspiration for the “We Can Project.”
As featured on the internet and NBC’s “Today” show, the “We Can Project” includes lessons about setting goals, perseverance, leadership, overcoming obstacles and helping others.
Teachers have been implementing the “We Can” lessons in their classrooms, and the students created large “I Can” posters to look like the sun, with their goals written on strips of paper forming the rays of the sun.
Sunnyside Principal John Camponelli said Ruben's performances have been inspiring. (STORY CONTINUES BELOW PHOTOS.)
“This has been great. The students love him and really respond to him,” said Camponelli. “It’s all about overcoming obstacles and persevering.”
Smyrna Superintendent Patrik Williams said Ruben’s lessons combine several important concepts.
“He emphasizes picking a goal for themselves, not giving up and working hard,” said Williams. “He’s also helping them learn at a young age about giving back and helping others.”
From New York City, Ruben has been a singer and songwriter for about 12 years and he’s toured and performed at a variety of venues. But after he released the song “We Can,” he began receiving inquiries that were different from nightclubs and coffee houses.
“I started getting requests from a bunch of schools, and it’s been so fun and so rewarding,” he said.
As an example, he said he was overwhelmed when he saw the large “I Can” posters students created that look like two halves of the sun in the Sunnyside Elementary gym where he presented his shows to the students.
“This is amazing,” he said as he looked at the posters.
During his performances, the students smiled and sang along when they heard Ruben perform the songs they know from the "We Can Project" lessons.
Ruben said, "The students looked excited. The teachers are excited because their students are excited, and they tell me when the students go home and tell their parents about the show, then their parents are excited."
During his show, Ruben told the students that his song “We Can” started because a friend asked him to run in the New York City Marathon to raise money for a charity.
At first Ruben said no. His friend asked again, and again he said no.
“The third time, my friend said, ‘I know it’s a little scary. I know it’ll be hard, but will you run?’ That time, I said ‘yes.’ I had to change my whole life,” he said. “I went through months of training. I had to change the way I ate. I had to change when I got up in the morning. But I learned something really special – the more time and energy you put toward something, when you finally do it, it’s more rewarding.”
After that experience, he wrote “We Can.”
“I wanted to write a song to give people permission and encouragement to try something new, hard or scary,” Ruben said.
He asked the students about the goals they have, and students responded with their plans ranging from “I want to play football” to “I want to play flute” and “I want to learn ballet.”
He told students his favorite part of each show is asking everyone their “we can” plans – “the things we can do for other people, our classmates, our school, our family, the ways we can help.”
Responses included being kind to others, holding the door for someone, picking up a book that someone dropped and holding a food drive.
First grader Austin Ringgold said he enjoyed Ruben’s performance.
“I liked his voice and I liked his song because it was about helping others,” Ringgold said.