The town of Mayberry was alive with the soulful sounds of famed vocal group The Spinners on Thursday. The Mayberry at Saluda Trail Middle School in Rock Hill, that is.
Mayberry is Saundra Booker's special education classroom. Every student plays a character from "The Andy Griffith Show." They get "paid" for assigned jobs such as the board scrubber, the door clerk and the dishwasher -- and can use the pretend money to buy things in class auctions -- and they pay taxes.
The Mayberry Crooners, a performance group that includes the whole class, is only part of Booker's unique approach to special education.
The Crooners sang a trio of Spinners songs during "Rock and Read" performances in Mayberry on Thursday.
"As special education students, I don't think they've ever been given this chance to be in the spotlight," Booker said.
Booker uses songs to teach her students how to read. She first plays the songs, then each student is given a copy of the lyrics. Before the class can start working on singing, every student must read the words to Booker.
Students had been practicing for Thursday's show since January.
"It helps me read, it helps me learn and it helps me get educated," said seventh-grader Markell Huff.
Every hand in the room shot up in the air when Booker asked the class if they like performing as the Mayberry Crooners.
"It feels awesome," sixth-grader Neely Robinson said with a grin. "I like to sing."
"It helps me sing better when I'm in church," eighth-grader Dwania Walton chimed in.
Thursday's performance was dedicated to Eric Robinson, Saluda Trail's industrial technology teacher who died suddenly last month.
Portraits of Robinson hung on the board behind the choir, and Booker read a poem she wrote about him.
"His love for children was powerful, there was plenty. Greeted you with a fist out, that was just his way," she said. "His smile and silly ways made our day."
Booker said most of her students took elective courses with Robinson at some point. Wednesday would have been his birthday.
The Crooners sang three songs about love: "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love," "One of a Kind Love Affair" and "How Could I Let You Get Away?" The last one especially was for Robinson.
In their sharp black and white tuxes, the students sang, danced and snapped to the tune.
A band comprised of players at a keyboard, guitar, tambourine, bongo drum and trumpet pretended to play alongside.
Everyone smiled from ear to ear.
"I think when you put everything in context and you realize that they've learned how to read through music ... it's just an amazing gift to all of us," schools Superintendent Lynn Moody said. "No matter where your mind's at when you come in here, you leave in a different place."