An enthusiastic team of parents, students, staff and even some alumni of Crestwood Middle School showed up in force to brief the Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board on Monday, March 4.
Principal Dr. Stephanie Nance described the Crestwood Middle School community as “a mosaic, a tapestry of people who share one belief: that our children deserve a quality education and our collective goal is to help them advance.”
While the Crestwood team came out in force to represent the school, the show was stolen by the Crestwood Honors Handbell Ensemble, which brilliantly performed tunes for the packed house ranging from a bluesy Mississippi Delta spiritual to “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin.
Led by Veronica Johnson, chair of the Crestwood Fine Arts Department, the choir is so well regarded that they have again been invited to perform in the Young Musicians Spotlight at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach near the end of this school year.
“Veronica Johnson is a western communities’ icon,” School Board Member Marcia Andrews said. “This marks her 20th year of teaching our children the love of music and the joys of working hard together to achieve a common goal.”
Andrews, whose grandchildren attended Crestwood, congratulated the school for providing a variety of well-rounded opportunities to children, including offering the unusual performing handbells.
Johnson passionately addressed the board about the importance of music education in the development of adolescents. “Students not only learn music, but they also learn a variety of other life lessons, including confidence, teamwork and the importance of hard work in order to achieve musical or any other kind of success,” she said.
Handbell players are called “ringers,” and ringing bells while in middle school can be such a formative experience that many students return from high school or even college to sit in with the ensemble. “I always tell them, if you can still pick up a bell, then you are welcome to ring with us no matter how old you get,” Johnson said.
Among the two dozen or so “ringers” Monday night was high school sophomore Devin Embrich, who took to the podium to address the educational community.
“I was beyond fortunate during my three years at Crestwood to be taught and mentored by Ms. Veronica Johnson,” he said, going on to describe how exposure to music and handbells during his time at Crestwood has shaped his life.
Embrich talked about the sense of community he experienced, and he expressed his plans to follow in Johnson’s footsteps and become a music teacher.
When asked about how joining a handbell ensemble has affected their children, several parents remarked that their children were learning life lessons that have spilled over and profoundly affected other parts of their young lives.
“Middle school can be tough on even the least shy of children,” Karla Bunyan said. “Bells have provided my daughter with a new love and a new passion, and she thrives on the aspect of everyone working together on a team.”
Eighth grader Stephany Arias agreed. “Handbell practice is a safe place for students to creatively be themselves and work together as a team to create beautiful music,” Arias said.
Arianna Dunkley likes the team aspect. “Ms. Johnson cares about us. Musicians learn life lessons, like the importance of hard work and how practice instills confidence, even when we are performing live on stage to a packed Kravis house,” she explained.
Daniella Bunyan is one of the few sixth graders advanced enough to play with the honors ensemble. “I didn’t know anything about creating music,” she said. “Handbells are teaching me creativity, enthusiasm and the confidence that comes with being a productive member of such an accomplished team.”
With a love of music instilled by her family, Johnson studied music at Howard University, where her mother was a professor of musicology.
“Crestwood is my home. It’s my heart,” she said. “It’s my joy to come to work every day and work with these beautiful young talents and all the supportive staff and parents that make up the wonderful Eagle community.”
As Embrich told the audience in his final remarks, “Part of the reason I am thriving today is because of how well I was treated at Crestwood during my middle school years. Once an Eagle, always an Eagle.”