In a school district where the failure rate is very high and the pass rate is very low, Jason Jones is making a difference.
The 2012 Emory & Henry graduate is giving hope every day to at-risk children in San Antonio, Texas, hundreds of miles from his hometown in Greeneville, Tenn., where he teaches K-5 music during the day and, after school, directs the choir and orchestra, teaches music memory, and advises the yearbook staff.
And, he’s doing it one note at a time.
Two years ago, Jones introduced orchestra music to students at Highlands Hills Elementary School, the only one among 54 schools in the district that has an orchestra program.
The results have been astounding.
“I’ve seen students who were not motivated to be in school. I’ve seen students who were making low grades and poor choices,” said Jones.
“After a fifth-grade student joined the orchestra, she got involved in school. She became a school patrol; she went on to middle school where she continued to take music. She’s taken all honor classes—just because she was in the orchestra. It changed her life, and it’s changing the lives of other students.”
Following college graduation, Jones completed a two-year position with Teach for America at Highland Hills Elementary School. When his two-year position was completed, he was asked to stay.
Jones said he was among 54,000 applicants when he applied for the Teach for America position in 2012. The organization only accepted 5,000 teachers that year and only 100 of them were placed in San Antonio.
No doubt about it, he’s making his mark on education.
Jones witnessed more affluent schools in the district enjoying generous budgets while his school did not have the money for extra music programs.
“I didn’t think it was fair that students in the richer part of the city got to learn these instruments and my students on the south side of San Antonio in a poor neighborhood didn’t have those same opportunities,” Jones said. “Nearly 100 percent of the children eat free and reduced lunches. They can’t afford instruments or music lessons. Some of their parents work as many as four jobs.”
He couldn’t help but think back to the conversations that took place in Dr. Julia Wilson’s sociology classroom when he was a student. “Fighting for the less fortunate people who don’t know how to help themselves really stuck with me.”
So, instead of complaining, he and a middle school orchestra teacher applied for a grant to receive help. Their school was awarded a $10,000 grant from San Antonio Independent School District Foundation (SAISD), which paid for 20 instruments for the students in 2012. Two years later, the school received another $500 for upkeep costs to the instruments.
“I will be applying for another grant this coming school year because I should have 35 to 40 students in orchestra,” he said.
Before Jones received the grant money, he was paying for music supplies out of his own pocket. “There’s no extra pay or stipends for running the orchestra program. I just call it a love for teaching,” said Jones, who learned Spanish on his own so that he could teach six Spanish classes at the school.
When his co-worker became ill, Jones took over the program. “I’d never taken a strings course; I don’t play violin, cello or bass. “I concentrated in voice and piano at Emory & Henry, but, I was given the music education skills at Emory & Henry to be able to teach strings.”
Jones also has organized a student choir at the school. “The first year I had 12 students in choir class, now I have 85 or more. I’m also adding a hand bells choir next year.”
Perhaps the most exciting news is that all of Jones’ orchestra students passed standardized tests this year, and 90 percent of his fifth-grade choir students passed the tests.
His work at the school seems never-ending.
Jones started after-school clubs at the school, one of which is a music memory academic club that meets once a week for third-through-fifth-grade students. “We study scores of classical pieces. They have to memorize and learn every piece, who wrote it, when they wrote it, and the names of large and small works,” he explained. His students entered a regional competition this year and nearly all of the students placed.
In addition, he received a grant to organize a year book club, allowing the school to publish its first year book in 30 years.
Jones is earning a second master’s degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio where he received the Presidential Scholarship from the College of Liberal and Fine Arts. He also received the Dashnell Endowment Scholarship for which he was the first elementary focus to receive.
He is being mentored by the nation’s leading expert on a Dalcroze Eurythmics at UTSA, a developmental approach to enhance musical expression and understanding for students of all ages.
He is an active member of the San Antonio Teachers’ Alliance (campus representative), the Texas State Teachers’ Association (regional and state delegate), the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, and the Texas Music Educators’ Association. For two years, he has been a 2012 corps member for the San Antonio Region of Teach for America.
One of his best pieces of advice to future teachers:
I teach my students how to be thinkers. I learned at Emory & Henry to be a thinker, not a follower or just a doer, but instead a thinker and a leader. And that’s what I want my students to learn.
Theta Chi Epsilon, Pi Sigma Kappa, Pi Delta Phi, Alpha Phi Omega, Concert Choir, Stadium Band, Orientation Leader, Opera Showcase, Southwest Virginia Research Symposium,
“I teach my students how to be thinkers. I learned at Emory & Henry to be a thinker, not a follower or just a doer, but instead a thinker and a leader. And that’s what I want my students to learn.”