At PORTA Elementary, Stephanie Everson, who began teaching part time at PORTA when she and her husband, Justin, the pastor of St. Paul’s Church, moved here from California three and a half years ago. Everson teaches K-2 music, having earned her Bachelors and Masters of Music from the University of Southern California.
Everson sees each PES classroom for thirty minutes, twice a week, teaching them the elements of music reading. She also instructs the students in learning to sing on pitch, an accomplishment she explains is fundamental to music making.
Everson reports the second grade is involved in a lengthy music project this year, having listened to John Lithgow’s book The Remarkable Farkle McBride, for which the Cincinnati Symphony added music. Everson directed the children write stories and act out those stories using the Sock Puppet app on their class iPads and details the students “have written and notated short tunes to be played in the background while their video is presented.” Both she and her students look forward to sharing those projects with the community.
Melissa Blankestyn serves PORTA by teaching 3rd and 4th general music, and 5th, 6th, junior high and high school band, as well as directing the fall play. In her first year at PORTA, she targets the “tradition of excellence in the music program and the visible parent/administrative support” as deciding factors in her decision to join the Bluejay family.
Bringing a Bachelor's of Music Education from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Master's of Music Education from VanderCook College of Music in Chicago, Blankestyn literally walks the musical walk throughout her life, as she can be found conducting and playing reeds for the Springfield Muni, Theatre in the Park, and the Springfield Theatre Center.
She credits the students for making the challenge of a fast-paced, high-energy job a little easier. “I think I am most proud of the openness of my students. Adjusting to a new band director is not an easy thing and they have been open to new ideas and have rolled with change.” For Blankestyn, “The most rewarding part of music education has to be the light of excitement in a student's eyes when they have accomplished something they deemed impossible.”
Raquel Reid, who began at PORTA as a student with Kris Cox as her band director from 5th grade beginner band all the way through high school “jumped at the chance to work with Cox and for this great school.” In her fifteenth year with PORTA, Reid attended Blackburn College, the University of Southern Mississippi, and Western Illinois University.
At PORTA, Reid teaches 3rd-6th General music, 6th grade choir, Jr. High Choir, High School Choir and Jazz Choir. She’s also the vocal director for the spring musical and contest manager for IHSA Solo & Ensemble contest and Organizational contest.
Reid acknowledges the challenges of “balancing planning time between the three different levels of students” she teaches, but highlights the reward of “hearing the beautiful sounds that all ages can create together when given the chance.” She notes that since “half of the choir participates in both band and choir and therefore are only in my class two to three days a week,” that preparing for performances such as the Christmas music for the Channel 20 recording for Christmas Eve, the Festival of Trees performance, and the winter concerts at all levels makes for a lofty goal..
All the PORTA music staff emphasize the importance of home support for students involved in music. Simple things such as encouraging students to “practice at home and support them by attending their performances” or “getting involved in the Music Boosters” can make a difference in a child’s musical education, Reid says. Everson concurs, echoing the importance of “being involved in children's school work and activities.”
That’s a fairly easy request to fulfill, as the music staff’s “season” never ends. Reid explains, “We are continually working towards another performance with our groups. We rarely have a weekend that doesn't include some type of school music activity or performance.” The community is, of course, welcome to attend all of them.