WESLEY CHAPEL — Vanessa Zurita fiddled with her video camera, making sure it was ready to begin shooting the morning news for Seven Oaks Elementary School.
She and the other fifth-graders chatted about regular school stuff when the door swung open and a visitor walked in.
"Oh my gosh!" Vanessa shouted. "It's Jordin Sparks. Oh, wow."
"Jordin Sparks is here?" said Tanner Goktepe, who was waiting to read the daily weather. "What the …?"
The American Idol Season 6 winner was in the house because a close family friend, fourth-grader Christian Watson, attends Seven Oaks. His family arranged the visit, along with a stop at John Long Middle, where Christian's two siblings go to school.
Sparks smiled broadly and greeted the kids, then headed to the public address system.
"Good morning, Seven Oaks," she said. "This is Jordin Sparks. Please tune in to Channel 6 for your Eagle Eye news."
The kids' eyes widened as Sparks headed back into the studio to appear on the broadcast.
"Do we still do our normal thing?" one asked. "Yes," a teacher answered. "Be calm."
"Are you kidding?" Tanner said. "I'm shaking."
After the national anthem, the lunch menu, weather and word of the day, Tanner announced, "Now we go to — Jordin Sparks. Whoa."
Sparks told the school that she was in town for a charity event, but wanted to stop by the school "because I love kids and because part of my family goes here."
After talking up her evening concert and the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl, she made her way to the outdoor play area for three brief assemblies with the students. Joining her was Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.
For about an hour, the stars talked with the children about the importance of sticking with school and pursuing their dreams.
"It's hard work," Haynesworth said of success. "And it all started with school."
Leaving the assembly, some of the kids got to shake the celebrities' hands or give a high-five.
"I touched him!" fifth-grader Andres Campo said after slapping hands with Haynesworth. "I'm never going to wash this hand. It was cool."
Back in their classroom, the kids talked excitedly about the surprise visit. Some were all about seeing a singer from television, while others couldn't get enough of seeing an NFL star up close and personal.
"It was kind of hilarious," said fifth-grader Alex Blandon. "I've never seen a celebrity. It was the bomb."
The message wasn't lost in the stars in their eyes, though.
"I learned that you should stay in school because it's important," said fifth-grader Brianna Colon. "You can play football and all that stuff, but school is more important."
It's not that teachers don't impress that upon students daily, said Shannon Schultz, the students' teacher. But hearing it from someone who once was a "normal, average person" and who now has fame helps the lesson stick.
"It's a good opportunity for the kids," Schultz said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.