Mele Kalikimaka is the Thing to Say!

When Rosewood music teacher, Karen Ambs, told fellow teachers she was thinking of starting an elementary Ukulele Club, she was met with a fair amount of skepticism.  But she knew something they didn’t: the ukulele is hot right now and she was right. She was at capacity with 33 students that first week in March. And now, eight weeks later, while they have lost a handful of students to Little League, the Ukulele Club is going strong with 26 students!

Last fall Karen attended a music education conference at Hope College and learned about the benefits of using the ukulele to teach instrumentation to young students. She learned that it is an easy instrument to teach and learn and students see a relative amount of success early on. But rather than introduce the instrument for classes right away, Mrs Ambs wanted to familiarize herself more thoroughly with the instrument and test it out in a club setting first. She saw that ukulele’s were catching on with students so she started asking students what they thought of meeting as a club. She only received positive replies, so they kicked things off in March!

Students were able to learn quickly. “If you know four chords, you can play 100 songs” and Mrs Ambs adds that one of the great things about the club is that everyone is able to play at their own level when practicing songs together. Sixth grade ukulele club member, Molly Jones says that the club is “so much fun” and because “we’re all learning together, if you make a mistake, it’s no big deal.” Fifth grade ukulelist, Conner Van Dam, joined because he wanted to add another instrument to his repertoire which currently includes the viola and next year, the baritone. He, along with Gavin Louckes [also 5th grade] say that, even though they didn’t know how to play the ukulele, they weren’t worried about trying something new. “If you never try it, you never know!” they said.

The club is open to 3rd – 6th graders at Rosewood and Mrs Ambs says that when students were learning chords in the beginning, it worked out well to have the younger students sit near the older students to watch and learn. This mentorship happened organically and Mrs Ambs was very pleased to have this be a byproduct of the club experience.

While some students were able to purchase ukulele’s in order to be part of the club, that isn’t an option for everyone. In order to give everyone an opportunity to learn the instrument, Ms Ambs is seeking grant funds to help out. A few years ago we told you about the great work of the Jenison Public Education Foundation and Mrs Ambs is hoping for a grant from them in the form of a complete classroom set. The potential for this grant, along with other possible resources will ensure that Rosewood student has the opportunity to learn ukulele in music class!

If these curious and talented students have inspired you to learn to entertain family and friends with this Hawaiian classic, Mrs Ambs has some words of encouragement for you! “It’s a very, simple, easy way to pick up an instrument and be successful with it. Yet, if you want to make it more challenging, you can go beyond four chords and learn picking patterns and melodies”. Still feeling unsure? Molly reminds everyone to “do something you enjoy!” and that just might mean picking up a ukulele!

Thank you, Mrs Ambs, for finding fun, creative ways to engage our students in learning about the wonderful world of music! Congratulations to these awesome Rosewood students for trying something new! We hope to see you at the Talent Show!

Growing Old is Mandatory. Growing Up is Optional.

Tonight the curtain opens on another spectacular Jenison High School Musical: Peter Pan! Of course, the story of the boy who refuses to grow up, written by J.M. Barrie, is well-known and a ubiquitous part of pop culture. It first hit the Broadway stage in 1954 when it earned its first Tony Awards. JPS Thespian Director, Todd Avery, was thrilled to bring Peter Pan and the Star Catcher this fall as a prequel to this weekend’s big show and he hopes audiences who take in both productions see the subtle connections the shows have to offer.

Of course, the show will feature some fantastic special effects that everyone has come to expect from Peter Pan – flying! According to Mr Avery, “The biggest part of the show is the flying. I have a fantastic “flight crew” of students and alum who have taken on the responsibility to fly their classmates across the stage.  The actors who fly, have never done anything like this before and are executing very well while hovering 10 to 20 feet above the stage.  We have a series of safety checks, good leadership, and everyone is having fun. There’s plenty of special effects in the show besides the flying.  Tinkerbell darts across the stage, interacting with the Darling nursery.  We even have a special live appearance of everyone’s favorite fairy that I’ve added to the show.  Finally, the talent level of this great group of kids is amazing.  Audience members will forget they are watching high school students.”

This show features sets, props, and costumes that are entirely handmade by student teams, each assisted by an adult leader. The professional quality is a testament to many hard and long hours of work in the scene shop and costume shop.

Students grow in their confidence, abilities, and leadership qualities throughout the show preparation and production. Students with special needs are involved in the show and fellow students rally around them for support, unprompted by Mr. Avery or other adults. “Probably the most amazing growth I’ve encountered is in our Peter Pan, junior Ashley Postema. Her freshman year, Ashley worked with her mother, board member, Jen Postema on our scenery for Oklahoma.  I saw her in the shop every day and her work was beautiful.  Ashley is an accomplished artist with several entries appearing in galleries around West Michigan. She barely spoke to me and was a very shy young lady.  Now, here she is laughing and joking with me and has the title role in the show!  I’ve seen this happen again and again with various students over the years.”

Of course, each time a production is featured we hear from students that the theatre community is welcoming, open, and feels like a family. Mr. Avery works hard to set the tone for students but they take the reigns and welcome each other. “Since the beginning, I have stressed the collaborative elements of theatre.  Everyone is welcome here, no exceptions.  I’m proud to say that over the years we’ve had representatives from every social group at Jenison High School either onstage or backstage. Mutual respect is also important.  No matter how stressful things become, we all must do our best to listen and respect each other.  We continually build each other up.  It is amazing how a simple “thank you” or “good job” can change someone’s day. My biggest joy is hearing about students within our program bringing in other kids to the program because it is a safe place where they can be themselves, have support and have fun.”

Amazingly, the benefits and strengths of students participating in theatre  don’t stop when the curtain goes up. A 2012 study by Americans for the Arts shows that students with four years of high school theatre arts, visual art, and music classes have higher SAT scores than students with one half year or less. “There are dozens of studies like this one that prove that students involved in the arts gain problem-solving skills, self-confidence, a sense of belonging, speaking and organizational skills, as well as many other benefits. There are several studies showing that employers like to have theatre majors working for them because they are creative problem solvers who work well in groups and are confident in interpersonal interactions.”

This weekend, take some time to enjoy the talents, hard work, and community of the Jenison Thespians! They will inspire you and bring some magic while they’re at it. And of course, remember that Growing old is mandatory.  Growing up is optional.  Too many people lose touch with their inner child and forget how to have fun once they “grow up.”   They don’t take the time to look at the world through the eyes of a young person.  Of course, there are benefits to growing up, but when life is taken too seriously, something is being missed or sacrificed.  Play with your children.  Fight for your right to never grow up.”

Break a leg, JPS Theatre! We are always amazed by everything you do! [Psst! If you haven’t gotten you tickets yet, you can do so here!]

The Grand Rapids Griffins are Serenaded by the Bobcat Choir!

miii2587The Bobcat Choir from Bauerwood cannot simply be contained by the borders of Jenison! Last week they traveled to VanAndel Arena to serenade the Grand Rapids Griffins, their opponents, the Iowa Wild and the hometown crowd with the National Anthem. They were supported by 300 Bauerwood family members who came to cheer on the choir and the Griffs!

miii2555Bauerwood music director, Diane Schrems, says that fifteen years ago the Bobcat Choir started signing the National Anthem at the Whitecaps games and then reached out to the Griffins as well. “Most recently Grand Valley contacted me to see if I would bring the Bobcat Choir to a Grand Valley Women’s basketball game.  It’s wonderful to get out into the community and perform for everyone.”

miii2559Rehearsals for the big performance have been taking place weekly after school on Thursday’s and the choir has watched post-game tape and agree they did a great job. Of course, they also got to stay for the game and had a wonderful time cheering with their family and friends.

“The kids gain a sense of school pride when we go out into the community and represent Bauerwood and Jenison Public Schools.  It’s important to share your talents with others in a meaningful way like singing our country’s national anthem.  Being a member of  Bobcat Choir builds strong character and commitment in our kids.  When we sing together we build a bond through the music that sounds and feels great.”

Even though the Griffs couldn’t pull of a win that night (they lost 1-2), the Bobcat Choir certainly won for their talent, courage and showmanship! Jenison is proud of you! Go Wildcats!

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#JPSReads Comes Alive on Stage!

miii2248As a partnership to #JPSReads, the Junior High theatre department presents, James and the Giant Peach starting today and running through Sunday afternoon. We hope that families all over the district participated in the Read Aloud, JPSReads, earlier this school year and read the classic Roald Dahl story but if it’s new to you, don’t worry, it’s a heartwarming tale of an underdog you’ll love.

James is orphaned early in life and goes to live with his aunt who treats him as a servant, rather than a young boy. He soon meets a mysterious old man who offers him a magic bag of crocodile tongues that will make his life better. When James accidentally spills the tongues all over the ground, he is surprised to see an enormous peach grow on the sidewalk! The giant peach becomes a magical place of fantasy and friendship for James and, of course, you’ll need to read the book or buy a ticket this weekend to hear the rest!

miii2237When Director, Holly Florian, was anticipating this years musical, she considered the amazing batch of talent her students bring to the table. While the audience is aware that the actors on stage are junior high students, what they may not realize is that by the end of the weekend, the entire show is student-run. They are in charge of the lights, sound, stage management, direction, and set changes. They are assisted by a couple of high school students in their tasks but they act mainly in the role of mentor to these ambitious junior highers!

The cast auditioned back in mid-October and at the end of that month they began their rehearsals. Near showtime, they are rehearsing from 5-9pm every weeknight! Prior to the holiday break they have memorized all of their lines but Ms Florian encourages them from this point on to really let the characters become their own; to have fun with the lines and the story. She sees their potential and wants them to have the opportunitiy to shine as a result of their hard work and dedication.

miii2102Just like our high school students say year after year, Ms Florian believes that her students love being in the theatre program because it provides a sense of belonging and community. Students are able to meet new people and make friends with other students they may have never met otherwise. Because of this, she is especially pleased with the journey that James makes in this story. As the director, she is able to see the journey of students, their progress and self-confidence throughout the rehearsal season. By the end “it’s amazing to see how far they’ve come and that’s what this story is all about: self-confidence.”

If you’d like to see these talented students live, in action, you can purchase your tickets here. It’s a great opportunity to bring the book to life and remind your kids of the importance of and meaning found in reading and stories!

Break a leg, Junior High students! We know you will be incredible, not only this weekend, but always!

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Choir Concert Season Wows Audiences!

miii9963Earlier this month students involved in various choirs across the district performed at the JCA much to the delight of their families, friends and teachers.

On Monday, Dec. 5 the Jr. High Choirs were joined by the District Elementary Honors Choir which is made up of about 90 singers from all five elementary buildings. The Honors Choir has been rehearsing since the end of September with three additional rehearsals outside of class time. It is led by Jr High Choir Director, Mr Waters along with Elementary directors: Mrs. Ambs [Rosewood and Sandy Hill], Ms. Florian [Pinewood and Sandy Hill], Mrs. Schrems [Bauerwood] and Mrs. Willie [Bursley].
miii9895Mrs Schrems says, “The 7th and 8th Grade Girls Choirs were amazing with their performance as was the 7-8-9 Male Chorus directed by both Mr. Waters and Mr. Carmichael.”  The night was closed out by a magical, true “surround sound” performance by both the Elementary Honors Choir and the Jr High Choirs with the song, “Night of Silence/Silent Night”. The Jr High Girls sang from the balconies, the Male Chorus sang from the stage and the Elementary Choir sang from the aisles on the orchestra level.
miii9888The next night “our incredible lower el students had a lovely performance called M-E-R-R-Y C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S! They sang beautifully and their behavior on stage was excellent.  We had approximately 50 narrators speak into the microphone as well.   Great Job!”
But the choirs weren’t done yet! The Bauerwood Bobcat choir was about to take over the ECC and the Gerald R Ford airport! All 113 members of the non-auditioned choir first stopped off at the ECC to lead the Transitional Kindergartners in a sing-a-long and perform some of their best songs as well. Mr. Westervelt dressed up as Santa and Mr. Waters was on hand to lead two songs and the students had the opportunity to get their wiggles out by dancing to Pentatonix “Up on the Housetop”.
miii9989And if that wasn’t enough, they headed to the Holiday Festival in the lobby of the airport! “The choir kids were complimented many times for their great singing but also for their polite manners.  We ended with some refreshments provided by the wonderful staff at the airport.”
The week was rounded out by a fantastic High School Choir and Orchestra concert on Friday night. “This concert was the perfect ending to a glorious week of choral music.”

Congratulations to all of our choir, band and orchestra students and directors! Your dedication and hard work is appreciated by the entire Jenison community and we love being able to see the ways you grow in your talents!

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JHS Theatre Says, “Let Your Freak Flag Fly!” in Shrek the Musical

MIII2429Last week the Jenison Thespians amazed audiences with their talent and passion in their performance of Shrek the Musical!

MIII1804The story in the musical version is very similar to the movie from 2001 we all know and love with a few minor changes and song additions. Shrek is an ogre who finds solace in a lonely swamp until it is invaded by ousted fairy tale characters from Lord Farquaad’s kingdom when he deems them “freaks.” But Shrek doesn’t want them either. Preferring his solitude to a overly crowded neighborhood, Shrek visits Farquaad to convince him to take the characters back. Farquaad decides to let Shrek rescue Princess Fiona who has long been trapped by a ferocious dragon in return for his swamp. Along the way, Shrek is saddled with Donkey, a chatty but charming compatriot in his adventure. Fiona is less than impressed with her rescuer and even less so with Farquaad and through a continued series of songs, fun and love, Shrek and Fiona end up together and the fairy tale characters get their new home after all. You could say “they live happily ever after…”

MIII1744Director Todd Avery hopes to spread the message about individuality being accepted and celebrated which is a main theme of the production. “As the song, “Let Your Freak Flag Fly!” indicates, EVERYONE has something “freakish” about them and those traits should be celebrated and not suppressed.  People [or in this case, fairy tale creatures] are different.  However, those differences are a GOOD thing and shouldn’t be judged by others.”

There are many  behind the scenes teams including set design and construction, sound and tech, pit orchestra, costume design, hair and makeup and stage management.  Kelsey Shannon is a senior who is the crew leader for the hair and make up team and enjoys being part of productions and the ability to be yourself. “Nobody’s judged, everyone’s accepting because you share the same passion.”

MIII2136Freshman, Ashley Hillson, playing the role of Princess Fiona loves being part of Jenison Theatre and makes her return to the stage after playing Arial in the Little Mermaid in last year’s Junior High musical. “The friendships you make here are so cool. Rehearsal doesn’t even feel like rehearsal anymore, it’s just everyone hanging out.”

Playing Shrek is senior Jacob Helm who says, “I feel like letting your freak flag fly is really important because it’s letting you show who you truly are, especially in theatre, which is why I think it’s so cool that we’re doing this show.  This is a place where we’re allowed to be who we really are without being judged.”

Ashley adds, “Anytime you are yourself people end up accepting you more and you end up finding  the people who are like you and when you’re yourself you’re a lot happier. No matter what you’re part of, just be willing to stay true to yourself and not feel like you need to be fake or hide.”

Congratulations to the entire cast and crew of Shrek! We are proud of your talents and we love letting our freak flag fly!MIII1765

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High School Chamber Orchestra Performs with GVSU!

thumb_MIII1290_1024 copyThe fall performance season was enriched by another year of the Jenison High School Chamber Orchestra partnership with the Grand Valley State University Symphony Orchestra.
In 2008 Jenison was the first high school orchestra asked to do a side by side concert with Grand Valley and they met up again on the stage of the JCA at the end of October this year.  The entire 70 member GVSU Symphony Orchestra was represented, including all woodwinds, brass, and percussion. The Jenison Chamber Orchestra is an elite musical ensemble made up of the top violin, viola, cello and bass players at Jenison High School.  Students are in 10th – 12th grade and perform a rigorous audition in the spring to be accepted into the ensemble.  Though the size of the group varies it’s roughly 25 students each year.
thumb_MIII1280_1024 copyDirector Dan Scott says, “Jenison students rehearsed in class [while also preparing our fall concert and our performance for the Betty Ford Breast Cancer Awareness Event], but they also had one 90 minute rehearsal with the GVSU Symphony on the day of the concert.”
The concert opened with the brass players from GVSU performing Fanfare from ‘La Peri by Paul Dukas from the balcony.  Included in the GVSU part of the program will also be Mars  from ‘The Planets by Gustav Holst followed by the Jenison Chamber Orchestra performing by themselves.  The GVSU Symphony performed three works by themselves before everyone joined together to perform Night on Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky.
Henry Duitman, GVSU Director of Orchestras explains how the side by side aspect works:  “For the Mussorgsky piece, the GVSU Strings will sit “side by side” with the Jenison High School Chamber Orchestra strings.  This gives younger students a chance to learn from older students and gives the entire string section the full sound that this mighty work requires.  It is a lot of fun for the students as well.  thumb_MIII1269_1024 copyOur students love to perform with the high school students and were especially looking forward to performing in the wonderful new Jenison Center for the Arts.”
Professor Duitman knows that music education is about more than performances and reading music. “This is just one more way of exposing students, parents, and the community to the exciting world of classical music, an important part of any liberal arts education.”
Mr Scott adds that the experience of playing alongside college students has a deep value as well. “This was a wonderful opportunity to learn about continuing to play their instruments in college.  Our students worked with students who are still playing in college while experiencing the musical level and expectations of a college ensemble.   As usual, our students were excellent musicians and people throughout the experience.”
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Thank you to both Mr Scott + Professor Duitman for bringing together these two very talented groups of musicians!  Students, we’re so proud of your talent and hard work!  Keep it up!

Dan Scott Named Director of the Year

Dan Scott, Director of Orchestras at Jenison High School has been given the prestigious honor of being named the Director of the Year by the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association.  Dan Scott

Last Spring we told you about the nomination process for Mr. Scott which was the first step on this exciting journey.  He was nominated [alongside Mr. Zamborsky] by his peers in District 10 which is comprised of Allegan, Ottawa and Kent counties and this past June the nominations were narrowed down to only 3 teachers by the Executive Board of the MSBOA.  Then, in December, those 3 band and 3 orchestra teachers are voted on by the statewide membership of the MSBOA.  The winners are announced in January at DeVos Hall during the performance of the All-State Band and Orchestra performances.

There will be an official presentation in May at the Michigan Youth Arts Festival where Mr. Scott will guest conduct the Michigan Youth Arts Festival honors orchestra.
“It is an absolute honor to be on this list.  The previous recipients of this award are some of the most respected teachers in my profession and I have looked up to many of them for years.  To have my name on the same list as these people is a true honor.  Its also special that this award is voted on by band and orchestra teachers throughout the state.”  — Mr. Scott
For the past 17 years Mr. Scott has had many opportunities to see his students grow and give back and he is thankful for the many great opportunities Jenison has provided him as a teacher. He is especially thankful for the chance to travel with the orchestras to Disney World.  Last year they were able to add a performance at Give Kids the World which is a Disney resort dedicated to children with terminal diseases or serious health concerns.  The orchestra performed for these families as they waited to see Santa and as children passed by, many in wheelchairs, “tears streamed down several of our students’ faces as they performed for these families.  I will never forget that night.”
Mr. Scott is also thankful for the connection to former students that Facebook has allowed him:
“The most gratifying thing about my career is when students who have been away from the program for years, after college or in college, and they send me a message saying how they “got their violin out and played some music from the past”.  To see how playing their instrument becomes a part of their life after JHS is easily the biggest reward my students can give me.”

Knowing that no teacher works alone, Mr. Scott is especially grateful to his fellow staff at Jenison:  “The music department is a rare group of professionals who are all tops in their profession.  They are all wonderful teachers who consistently amaze me how they show their love for students, music and education.  In 2002, Carol Johnson joined the orchestra program, taking over the JH program and her partnership is one of the biggest reasons Jenison has the orchestra program it has today.”

We join the MSBOA in saluting you, Mr Scott!  We’re so proud to have you on our team!

7 – 9 Male Chorus Wows Music Educators

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Each January, music educators from the entire state of Michigan gather in downtown Grand Rapids for the Annual Michigan Music Conference.  They attend sessions presented by leaders in the field and also listen to selected school musical groups.  The conference is recognized for setting a standard of excellence philosophically and musically throughout the state.

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Various school groups are selected to perform based on audition recordings that are submitted by their directors the previous spring.  In the past thirty years many Jenison Choirs have been chosen to perform at all levels:  elementary, junior high and high school which is something we, as a district and community take great pride in.  However, this year, as a result of a blind audition the 7 – 9 Male Chorus was invited to perform during the MSVMA Choral Hour at the JW Marriott Hotel.  Only six choirs from the state were given this honor and ours was the only choir to include students at the junior high level.

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While the quickly swelling crowd waited for the previous session to wrap up the Jenison Male Chorus worked on their focus with mental warm ups.  The other selected choirs from Traverse City and DeWitt also waited but it was impossible to ignore the 94 young men dressed in their tux jackets and ties.

When they took the stage, they were greeted by applause and performed four songs:  two in Latin with complex harmonies and two that were upbeat and included some different stylings.  The final song, “Coney Island Baby” even included choreography and was a genuine crowd pleaser, earning the group a standing ovation.

Director Steven Waters, a veteran teacher of 29 years who has been with Jenison for 18 years, had this to say in appreciation of the young men he works with:

“I think the thing that is most unique about our group compared to others is that it is an all male JH age (grades 7-9) group. The second thing that sets them apart is that they aren’t an auditioned group. The other choirs that were selected are all “select” , elite choirs from their respective schools. We refer to our choirs at the JH as “y’all come sing” groups. Our Male Chorus is also unique in that it’s a JH aged choir that routinely sings 4-part acappella literature which is very challenging.” 

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If you’d like to catch an upcoming performance of another Jenison Choir please join our JH girl choirs performing in the Jenison Center for the Arts with the Lakewood Area Choral Society (LACS) on Tuesday April 1.

“This is a unique opportunity for our students to perform jointly with an adult group. We’re hoping this encourages them to view singing as a lifelong activity that is healthy and rewarding. The LACS is a phenomenal auditioned community ensemble of 110 voices  and is directed by former Jenison Choir Director Bob Oster.”  – Steven Waters

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Congratulations Male Chorus!  We’re proud of you!

Bauerwood Music Teacher Named Michigan Music Educator of the Year

What Diane Shrems expected to be an average Friday night football game in Jenison this fall turned out to be anything but average.  She was with her best friend and co-director, Karen Ambs, listening to students sing the fight song for a piece of candy when Karen handed her a stack of letters saying, “I want you to read what everyone thinks of you.”

Diane Schrems

They were her colleagues’ letters directed to the Michigan Music Educators Association [MMEA] nominating Diane for the prestigious award of Michigan Music Educator of the Year.  Diane was overwhelmed to tears with the outpouring of support and kind words.

Fast forward to this winter, when Diane received a call during an especially stressful rehearsal.  She told the unknown caller that she was dealing with a crisis and that he would have to call back later.  She hung up without another thought to who he was or why he called.

Much later that day, Diane was catching up on her work, only to discover a short email from the President of the MMEA apologizing for disrupting her rehearsal but wanting to let her know that she had been named the MMEA’s Educator of the Year. He added that he should know better than to contact a music teacher during holiday rehearsal season!

Diane loves working in Jenison and has done so for 23 years, calling it the “best job on the planet” and her students “amazing and respectful.”  She is humbled by the award saying that, “after reading the letters I realized that it is truly a team award.  My team makes me strong; without them I couldn’t be who I am—the team allows us to be the best.”

Co-director of the JPS Elementary Honors Choir and the Bobcat Choir [made up of 100 5th & 6th graders].  Diane’s list of accomplishments is long:

  • She also co-directs the vocals for the JHS annual musical and is excited to be part of the Wizard of Oz this spring.
  • Presented at the Michigan Music Conference, university general music workshops and the MMEA Fall workshop
  • Awarded for excellence by the Jenison School Board
  • Served on the Board of Directors of the MMEA
  • Regularly a mentor to student teachers 

But those awards and recognitions come in second place when compared to “seeing the excitement in kids when they connect to each other with music.” Seeing that interaction is her favorite part of the job, and she is most looking forward to continuing to perform at the new Jenison Center for the Arts. The thought of giving her students the chance to perform on a stage that “is worthy of their talents” and seeing them connect with an audience is a thrill she has long awaited.  Diane said she is especially thankful to have an administration that supports the arts and with that, she says, “the sky’s the limit.”

The Music Educator of the Year Award will be presented on Saturday, January 18th at the annual MMEA breakfast and meeting at the Michigan Music conference held here in Grand Rapids.  Congratulations, Mrs Schrems!  We’re proud to call you one of our own!