Most students attending Zaragoza Elementary can’t afford private piano lessons. And they also can’t afford to buy pianos for their homes. But that isn’t stopping teacher Tobizena Williams from trying to turn her music students into young Mozarts.
Williams initiated a piano and electronic keyboard program at Zaragoza, 4550 Worth, when she came to the school in1990. Her small classroom is crammed wall-to-wall with 12 30-year-old pianos, scuffed and scarred from trips in and out of classrooms throughout the Dallas public school district.
On a typical school day, one or two Zaragoza children sit at each piano bench, skillfully filling the room with classical to rock ‘n’ roll tunes. Williams instructs about 100 students weekly in first through sixth grade.
“I couldn’t play this well at their age,” says Williams, who began teaching music in Dallas public schools in 1968.
“The piano gives them an opportunity to develop an inborn talent they’ve got, but sometimes they don’t know they have it.”
To make sure her students have ample time for practice, Williams stays after school and works weekends to provide access to the pianos. She also initiated the first piano summer camp in the school district, which meets throughout the month of June at Zaragoza.
At camp, the students practice piano, but also play music-oriented board games, such as Monopoly, and learn music theory.
“She’s a very effective teacher,” says Principal Ramon Guerrero. “She spends countless hours trying to help the students.”
But talented musicians aren’t created by teachers, Williams says. They’re the product of hard work and dedication, she says, which spills over into academics.
“Most of my students are straight ‘A’ students, and they’re well-disciplined,” she says.
“It (the piano class) helps build self-esteem because the students can hear the results,” Guerrero says.
The piano also provides a means to relax, says Thu Thuy Thi Dinh, a sixth-grade student who began taking lessons with Williams in first grade.
Dinh was one of 12 students Williams took to San Antonio in February when Zaragoza was invited to perform on electronic keyboards at the annual meeting of the Texas Music Educators Association. The students practically slept at the school while practicing for their hour-long show, Williams says.
This year’s trip was especially sweet from Dinh, who expected to attend the San Antonio conference three years ago. Zaragoza had been invited to perform for the association, and a caravan was on its way to the event, but an ice storm stopped the group’s van in Waxahachie.
“I cried. The children cried. The parents cried,” Williams says. “In this life, some rain must fall – we had ice.”
Ice hasn’t been Williams’ only obstacle.
Often, she will work with students for a few years and then the students move, which she says is heart-breaking.
But there are also piano students like Jeanette Briscoe and Maria Diaz, both ninth graders at Skyline High School, who still return to Zaragoza to aid Williams with lessons and to receive further instruction.
To continue their piano lessons beyond Zaragoza, Dinh and three of her sixth-grade classmates have applied to the Thomas Edison Learning Center next year. They also hope to attend the Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet high school, Williams says.
“Lots of times, music is treated like a stepchild in some schools, but here, we’re given full support,” she says.
Other students who attended the San Antonio conference included Briscoe, Diaz, Dinh’s sister Linda, Carla and Stacy Evans, Fanny Frausto, Pamela Powell, Sara and Vanessa Botello, Brenda Guiterrez and Athena Rodriguez.
News & Notes
AMONG THE FACULTY
Rotary Club Finalists: The Rotary Club of Dallas announced the finalists for its 1996-97 “Outstanding Teacher Award for Service Above Self.” Bradley Sue Howell of Woodrow Wilson High School is a finalist at the high school level. Cathleen Morrobel Garcia of Mount Auburn is a finalist at the elementary school level.
Journalism Teacher Honored: Janelle Bates of Woodrow Wilson has achieved Certified Journalism Educator status from the Journalism Education Association. Bates will be honored April 19, at the spring JEA/NSPA National Convention in Phoenix, AZ.
Gaston Middle School Teacher Applauded: Gary Hamilton, a special education teacher at Gaston Middle School, was named Teacher of the Year for 1997 by the Texas Middle School Association. Hamilton received the award at the annual TMSA convention in Corpus Christi.
String Bass Player Honored: Scott Sheffler, a senior at Bryan Adams High School, performed for the second straight year in the Texas All-State Philharmonic Orchestra.
Countdown To State: Andrew Rogers, a seventh-grader at J.L. Long Middle School, won honorable mention at the regional Mathcounts competition at Southern Methodist University. As a result of his finish, Rogers advanced to the state meet.
Cross-Examination: Four students from Woodrow Wilson qualified for the 1997 University Interscholastic League State Cross-Examination Meet in Austin. The qualifiers were Matthew Liebman, Jeremy Liebman, Rachellee Chandler and Carissa Slaughter.
Early Childhood PTA Commended: The Lakewood Elementary Early Childhood PTA was recognized at the Texas Association of Partners in Education conference in San Antonio as the state’s Outstanding Campus Volunteer Program.
Tim Brown/Woodrow Wilson Golf Tournament: The annual fund-raiser for the Woodrow Wilson Athletic Booster Club will take place May 5 at Oak Cliff Country Club. Meet the former Woodrow Wilson star, Notre Dame Heisman Trophy Winner and Oakland Raider All-Pro. For information, call Carlin or Charles Morris at 214-826-7056.
The First Annual Cougar Open: The Bryan Adams High School Athletic Booster Club presents the First Annual Cougar Open, a golf tournament benefiting the BA Athletic Booster Club. The tournament will take place April 19 at 1:00 p.m. at the Creekview Club in Crandall. Space is limited. For information, call Mike Jones at 214-324-2052, Ted Steinke at 214-341-1023 or Larry Novy at 214-324-2645.
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