Five Volusia County students were recently selected to participate in Florida Elementary Music Educators Association All State ensembles for 2021-2022, four of whom came from one local school: Beachside Elementary.
This is a record for music teacher Sarah Johns, and one that is occurring in the school's first year after the merging of Osceola and Ortona Elementary. Every year — save for 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic — elementary students from across Florida audition for a spot in either FEMEA's All-State Chorus, or All-State Orff ensemble. A similar competition is conducted by the Florida Music Education Association at the middle and high school levels.
Three of Johns' fifth grade students were accepted into the All-State Elementary Chorus: Stella Taylor, Tracey Spruill and Lily Thompson. Fifth grade student Natalie Ambrosio made it into the Orff ensemble, marking another milestone for her teacher, as she is the first of her students to ever be accepted into the ensemble.
“It’s just been a crazy experience," Johns said. "It’s a huge honor for our school, and just for our district. To have four from one school is pretty amazing.”
Come January, Johns and her students will travel to Tampa for a concert during FMEA annual conference, joining hundreds of other talented students from across the state.
“It’s just going to be a big ball of beautiful music," Tracey said.
Preparations for All-State began at the end of fourth grade for Johns' students. She originally handpicked eight whom she felt had a good shot at making it, and spent the summer preparing them for their auditions in August.
But it wasn't until the beginning of October that Johns got a hold of the audition results.
It had become a common practice for students to pop by her classroom and ask if the results were available. Natalie was the last student to check in with Johns on the day they found out. She had just stopped by her music teacher's classroom and initially, Johns told her there wasn't any news.
“I walked back to my room and then five minutes later, Ms. Johns is like jumping out the door," Natalie recalls. "She’s like, ‘You made it in!’ It was so exciting.”
Natalie found her friend Stella and enthusiastically told her she had gotten in as well.
“And then I cried," Stella said.
Johns treasures the moment she found out, when she saw her name, not once, not twice, but four times combined in the two ensemble lists. There are years that none of her students make it.
All of the girls are passionate about music. Natalie plays piano, Stella is just learning to play the keyboard and Tracey loves to sing — though she said Lily, who was unable to attend the interview with the Observer, is the best singer out of all of them.
Seeing their progress over the years is exciting, said Johns. She's watching them grow into musicians.
“I always knew they were talented, but it’s neat to see them like really start to develop that talent now," Johns said.