By Paul Burdziakowski
For Hometown News
Longtime Longstreet Elementary music teacher Jeanne Keiper is retiring after 35 years in the Volusia County school system.
This retirement will come as quite a change for students and teachers, who have grown to know and love her, but it will also come as quite a change for Ms. Keiper because she has spent 41 years of her life at Longstreet Elementary -- first as a student and then as a teacher.
Ms. Keiper was the first student at Longstreet Elementary to come back and serve as a teacher. She started as a third-grader at Longstreet Elementary, shortly after it was built in 1954. After completing her college education, Ms. Keiper became a teacher in 1972.
Physical education teacher Beth Bazemore was the second student to attend and teach at the school. Having taught alongside Ms. Keiper for more than 30 years, Ms. Bazemore knows her fellow teacher better than anyone.
"Jeanne Keiper has such an influence on motivating her students to participate and perform in music," Ms. Bazemore said. "Jeanne is so committed to supporting her music performances that she comes to work earlier than most teachers and stays later, as well. She will be greatly missed."
Ms. Keiper's music-class experience, as a junior high and high school student, left her thinking that not only would she like to teach music, but also she could make it fun. It was one of the major factors that motivated her to become a music teacher. The other big factor was her father, who worked as a professional musician in New York City. While he did a lot of music, choir and solo work at church, his most notable accomplishment was singing backup for popular 1940s-60s singer and television personality Perry Como.
"I always wanted to sing like my father," Ms. Keiper said. "While I was never quite as good as him, I was fortunate to receive a lot of good training, which allowed me to participate in choirs and do solos."
After Longstreet Elementary, Florida State University was the place where Ms. Keiper spent a considerable amount of time, six years, and where she received a big part of her training and education in music. She started off her college career in general studies before majoring in music education. Through participation in club sports, such as water ballet, where she was able to choreograph a group of swimmers to music, Ms. Keiper found she really loved music and wanted to share the joy of it with others.
One of the ways Ms. Keiper has been able to bring the fun and joy of music to her students is by keeping everyone occupied and active with hands-on activities that include singing, dancing and instrument playing.
Ms. Keiper finds that her students also enjoy themed music during the different seasons, In February, which is patriotic month, students learn "America the Beautiful" and "The Star Spangled Banner."
"Kids need music because for some kids, it's what they do best," Ms. Keiper said. "Music is just appropriate for kids, since they do so much sitting in the classroom and at home. It gives them a chance to be creative, release and escape from their daily routine."
"I find it satisfying to enable children to perform," she said. "I love putting on shows and seeing them have successful performances."
Ms. Keiper has seen a great deal of progress that has taken place at Longstreet over the years. When she first started at Longstreet, there was just one phone for teachers to use, no computers, a few instruments and one set of music books.
Ms. Keiper's ability to provide a great music experience for her students was made easier five years ago with the creation of a new music and art suite at the school and new instruments that came with it. The new space and equipment allowed all her students to participate at one time and not have to wait and share instruments.
"The technology we have today, such as sound systems, projector screens and electronic music equipment, is incredible and really enhances the ability to teach music," Ms. Keiper said.
She gives a lot of credit to Volusia County for providing the students with the technology, instruments and building space.
"In my 35 years at Longstreet Elementary, Volusia County has always supported the arts and kept it in the schools, where other counties have let these types of programs go, due to budget cuts," Ms. Keiper said.
Her retirement will become official June 30. During this new chapter in her life, she plans on spending more time with her family and doing some traveling.
"I will continue to be involved in church music work and do some volunteer work at the school, but what I will miss most is the sweetness and joyfulness of the children and the camaraderie of the teachers," Ms. Keiper said.