Omaha’s own teen music and Internet sensation JoJo Siwa made a surprise visit to a Millard elementary school Thursday afternoon.
Siwa, 15, showed off her dance moves and delivered an anti-bullying message at Wheeler Elementary near 178th and Harrison Streets. Her appearance was tied into the district’s #BeKind initiative.
Her visit had been shrouded in secrecy — a good call given her rising stardom — and the students shrieked with delight when they realized that the pop star was at the school.
Siwa performed a dance routine on the gymnasium stage and took questions from the students.
What’s your favorite color, one student asked. Pink and rainbow, she replied.
Favorite food? Pizza. Favorite subject in school? Math.
One boy asked if he could have her autograph. She promised to sign something for the school.
Siwa urged students at the K-5 school to be kind to one another, now and throughout their lives.
“It’s always the right answer to be kind,” she said.
The visit came about because of Wheeler Principal Courtney Manzitto’s friendship with JoJo’s family.
JoJo’s mother taught dance, and Manzitto was one of her students.
JoJo had sent the school a video message last fall, to help kick off the school’s #BeKind effort. The star wanted to follow up with a personal visit, Manzitto said.
Manzitto said JoJo really wants to use her fame to send a positive message.
“I feel that a lot of parents and families are looking for role models like JoJo out there to spread messages of confidence and kindness,” she said. “It’s an amazing partnership that she really did want to make it out to Wheeler.”
JoJo, in an interview after her appearance, said her family is back in Omaha to celebrate her brother Jayden’s graduation.
He was home-schooled, but had attended Roncalli High School.
“I am celebrating my brother’s graduation, which I am excited about,” she said. “That’s the main reason why we’re here. But while we’re here for these couple of days, I’m actually going to visit the kids at the med center and the kids at Children’s Hospital. I’m really excited for both of those visits.”
Her parents are Tom and Jessalynn Siwa.
JoJo arrived at Wheeler wearing a sparkly purple top and one of her signature hair bows known as “JoJo Bows.”
She told the students that the bows are not just a cute hair accessory. Wearing one marks you as a Siwanator — the name her fans go by.
“If you are a Siwanator, that means that you are someone who is strong, who is confident, who is loving, who is caring, who is nice to everyone, who supports everyone and who is kind to everyone,” she said.
Although she has been home-schooled, she spent part of third grade in school, she said. She told students the story of a special needs girl she encountered at school who was being ostracized by other girls. “The other girls came up to me and said that is Lucy (a pseudonym). We don’t like her. Don’t talk to her.’ ”
She said she didn’t understand why the girls felt that way and why they made fun of the girl.
JoJo said she reached out to the girl at a school ice cream event, bringing her a big dish with sprinkles, bananas, cherries and other goodies.
“I’ll never forget the look that she gave me. She looked up like, ‘I have a friend, someone’s being nice to me.’ ”
She told the Wheeler students that finding friends can be hard. She said if they see someone sitting alone at lunch or with no one to play with, they should step in.
JoJo also shared her own story of how she dreamed of being a star and how she has worked hard to achieve it.
Her star is rising. She’s appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon, where she performed a dance-off with the host.
Her high-energy music videos, which highlight her superb dancing skills, are mega-popular with teens and tweens.
Her “Boomerang” video, which takes on bullying, has 688 million views on YouTube. She has more than 8 million followers on Instagram.
She will be going on her first major tour — the D.R.E.A.M. tour — in May. The concert tour will stop at Baxter Arena on Aug. 6 and Pinnacle Bank Arena on Aug. 24.
She said the release of her music video “Boomerang” changed her life.
“I decided this is something that I really, really, really want to do,” she said.
Then she signed with Nickelodeon and her life “got taken to the next level and every single one of my dreams came true,” she said.
There were more videos, movies, TV specials and merchandise.
She told the kids that regardless of their career choice — singer, dancer, astronaut or surgeon — they should go for it.
“Whatever you want to do, work really, really, really hard at it, and follow your dreams and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. Can you guys do that?”
The students responded with a big cheer.
First-grader Savannah Shuda said JoJo was “great.”
Asked what she likes about JoJo, Savannah said: “That she makes awesome bows and she makes good songs.”
She said she gave the pop star a message.
“I said, ‘I love you JoJo.’ ”
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