Some of the youngest performers at Sunday's Academy Awards show headed back to school Monday, still basking in the glow from the biggest spotlight of their young lives – sharing the stage at the Dolby Theatre with Pharrell during the performance of his hit song "Happy." (View a video of the performance below.)
"It was a dream. It was awesome," said 15-year-old Alexa Baruch. "Leonardo DiCaprio was right in front of us."
Baruch was one of 19 students selected to perform with Pharrell from the dance and choir classes at the Academy of Music at Hamilton High School, a magnet program in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The students were part of the choir on stage and danced in the background during the performance.
Several dozen students auditioned for Pharrell's team two weeks ago. The students who were selected went through a whirlwind of rehearsals with well-known choreographer Fatima Robinson in the days leading up to the performance. Robinson is known for her choreography in music videos with stars like Michael Jackson and Aaliyah. (The story continues below the video window.)
Details of the performance were kept under wraps until the show aired.
"We couldn't post on social media all week because it was a secret," said Noah Mayer, a junior at the school. "When we got the opportunity, it was Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. We lit it up to tell everyone."
Mayer said his time at the Oscars topped his list of the best experiences he's ever had.
"It was such a unique opportunity and these kids will forever have something really special to remember," said Kelci Hahn, the school's choral director. Hahn added that the opportunity also reminded her about the value of arts education and the power the arts have to shape children's lives. She said she wished all students had access to the arts and opportunities like this.
"People forget that the arts exist and we're often the first programs to be cut," Hahn said. "These kids are very lucky."
Arts education in Los Angeles unified has been drastically cut in recent years – the district launched a new arts education plan last summer and has proposed to pump nearly $16 million back into the arts by the 2016/2017 school year. The school relies heavily on donations to help fund its arts efforts, according to Marlene Zuccaro, director of the Academy of Music at Hamilton High School.
This was the fourth time the high school has partnered with Pharrell. The school began a relationship with the singer-songwriter in October, and students performed with him on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and at two other events.
"It was a very long process, but very worth it," said junior Preston Parker. "It was crazy incredible. It was a true blessing."
Parker added that getting back to school and refocusing on classwork was a challenge Monday morning. He said it was hard to refocus, especially when you're inspired to dream big.
"I think the next step is to actually win an Oscar," Parker said, bursting into laughter with his classmates who shared the stage with him at the Dolby. "I think that's the only way we can go now."