When Pharrell Williams' Something in the Water festival was announced, Chris Jacobs was ecstatic.
Jacobs is eager to attend the upcoming three-day music extravaganza. The Green Run High School teacher also saw a learning opportunity.
Youngsters love music, Jacobs thought. They'll be fired up for an event bringing in over two dozen famous musicians.
"You're going to be learning about the history of what's going on in our own city," he told a class Thursday morning.
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Jacobs teaches in Green Run's Innovation Lab, an alternative learning home for about 110 students. Many struggled in traditional classrooms, so lessons are hands-on and outside the box.
Over the next month, students will study what it takes to run a successful concert, looking at logistics like traffic, security and transportation. They'll work on public speaking by debating the pros and cons of the festival. And they'll practice networking, meeting city leaders tasked with making it go smoothly.
Organizers anticipate 25,000 people a day could visit the Oceanfront party from April 26 to 28. If all goes well, it would be a major boost to Virginia Beach.
For sophomore Ariela Kingsley Romero, the class makes students part of a historic debut.
"This could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience," she said.
On Thursday, about a dozen sophomores watched a video from Public Enemy's 1989 song "Fight the Power." The hit promotes standing up to authorities and traditional heroes. It debuted a few months before Greekfest, a Labor Day weekend event that attracted students from historically black colleges.
Television news reports at the time described "Fight the Power" as a soundtrack to Greekfest, Jacobs said.
What went wrong? he asked.
The students had studied a report so they knew the answer. The crowd numbered in the thousands, and the city wasn't prepared. Looting and violence erupted. Damage exceeded $1 million. Extra security was needed, and soldiers with machine guns were brought in. The episode drew national attention and cast a negative light on the city.
Jacobs asked the students to think deeper. Racial tensions were high back then, he said. Is there similar discord today?
The class talked about how state Gov. Ralph Northam is embroiled in scandal after a photo of someone in blackface and another person dressed in Ku Klux Klan garb were found on his Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook pages. And some in Virginia Beach are wary of the festival because of recent incidents during College Beach Weekend, an annual event typically held in late April.
"You want to learn about it so you know not to repeat it," Romero said.
During this project, students will explore 22 topics related to Something in the Water. Among them: Virginia Beach's city government and the Fyre Festival — a much-promoted 2017 event that ended up being canceled.
The lessons have already helped sophomore Ariana Valero. She was crushed when her father said high-profile events can carry risks. Now, she knows the history of Greekfest and understands what he means.
Valero is a fan of J Balvin, a reggaeton artist who is performing next month. She can't wait for the festival.
She's also excited to see what each lesson of the project brings.