St. John Schools music growth on display with free Saturday showcase

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, May 3, 2017

RESERVE — It has been about four years since the St. John the Baptist Parish Public School system partnered with the VH1 Save the Music Foundation to bring music to the students of the district.

This weekend they will get to show how far they have come. St. John Parish Schools will hold its second annual Music Showcase at 1 p.m. Saturday at East St. John High School. It is free to attend. Musicians and singers from East St. John High School, John L. Ory Communications Magnet, LaPlace Elementary, Fifth Ward Elementary School and Emily C. Watkins will show off their many musical talents.

Among the highlights this year will be the first performance by the combined band for St. John Parish middle and high schools.

The band students from Ory, Watkins and LaPlace Elementary have been the main beneficiaries of the VH1 program, which has provided grants to help pay for music teachers, books and instruments, with each school added in phases.

Connie Sparacello, the band director at Ory, has been getting her students ready for their performances, as well as watching select students practice with the combined band.

“One of the greatest things about teaching music is having kids from different schools come together for a common purpose,” she said. “I’m very proud of my students and how much they personally have been able to accomplish since picking up instruments for the very first time in August.”

Seventh graders Imani Wilson and Ashari Johnson are among the Ory students who will be performing in the showcase.

Both said they are excited to be a part of it.

“I’m ready to show everything I’ve learned,” said Wilson, who chose the trumpet as her instrument when the program began in August.

The band program at Watkins is in its fourth year under Howard Gauley Jr.

“It’s going to be great to show everyone what we’ve been doing and how hard we’ve been working,” he said.

The growing music program is important to Superintendent Kevin George, who in March received the VH1 Save the Music Foundation’s Administrator Award for distinguished support of music education.

He said he is excited about the showcase, and not just because Chiho Okuizumi, grantee and compliance manager for the foundation, is flying in for the occasion.

“One, the kids can show off what they have learned,” George said. “Then, it’s a chance for our kids to show the community, ‘Hey, look what we can do.’”

He also wants the VH1 folks to see that their money and time has been well-spent.

“They are so excited about what we’re doing here,” George said. “We’re like an example to them of how it should be done.”

Okuizumi said she can’t wait to celebrate with the students and the community.

“So many districts are cutting back their programs and cutting teachers,” Okuizumi said.  “They’ve added eight or nine teachers in just three or four years. They’ve done so much in such a very short time period.”