Sarah Johns transformed the music department with Osceola Thunder, a group focused on singing, body percussion, movement and learning instruments harder than those used in class.
As soon as Sarah Johns was hired as the new music teacher at Osceola Elementary School in August 2017, she knew her students were craving a musical outlet outside of class.
Rallying 65 students in third through fifth grade, Johns created an after-school music experience called Osceola Thunder that met twice a week in the fall to sing, learn harder instruments than those used in class, study body percussion and practice for winter performances, including the “Home for the Holidays” winter parade in Ormond Beach.
“They haven’t had something like this here, I think, in a long time, so the kids were just really thirsty for something in music — something to express themselves creatively and get involved,” Johns said.
Fifth-grader Megan Beck said her favorite part of Osceola Thunder was learning how to play the xylophone and metallophone.
“At Osceola Thunder, it’s not just singing,” fifth-grader Samuel Kim said. “We have Orff and percussion and different things.”
Students got her through it
When 65 students showed up to her classroom for practice in September, Johns said she realized what a big undertaking this group would be.
She worked long and hard to come up with parts in songs for each student. It took a toll on her. She said some days, she would go home tired and worn out, wondering how she could continue.
That’s when Mary Bunch, a former teacher who is mother of fourth-grader Osceola Thunder member Betty Bunch, offered to help Johns.
“That woman showed up every practice, she knew every kid’s name, she took attendance for me, she ran the music at the concerts for me —she did everything that you could ever possibly want in a volunteer,” Johns said. “I could not have run rehearsals without her.”
Ultimately, Johns said the students’ reactions to Osceola Thunder got her through the tiresome process.
“It’s a good thing she did this because I like music, and I want to sing when I’m older,” fifth-grader Kyra Pace said. “She helped me get over my fear a little bit because I got stage fright.”
Johns recalled fifth-grader Aiden Brock popping his head into her classroom one day right after school in the fall. Brock told her that Osceola Thunder was the best thing that’s ever happened to him.
“It’s a lot of work, and it’s a lot of stress, and it’s a lot of running around crazy,” Johns said. “But at the end of the day, if a kid stops by my room and say this is the best thing that he’s ever done in his life, that to me is like, ‘OK, got it. I’ll do this again.’”
Gearing up for the new year
While the group doesn’t meet in the spring, Johns still has members of Osceola Thunder in her music classes who are anxiously waiting for fall to arrive so the group can start up again.
“They just beg and beg to have this group again, now that they know what it is: ‘Are we going to have it next year? Are we doing it next year? Can we please have it next year?’” Johns said of her students’ constant questioning. “When we had our last practice, they didn’t want it to end.”
“They haven’t had something like this here I think in a long time, so the kids were just really thirsty for something in music — something to express themselves creatively and get involved.”
- SARAH JOHNS, Osceola Elementary School music teacher
Johns is anticipating even more students to be interested in joining the group next fall. She said she doesn’t want to ever have to turn anyone away or for the group to become exclusive.
Johns is also planning on putting together an in-class group of students in kindergarten through second grade that will perform in a school concert at the end of spring.
“I got a lot more friends because we became a lot closer with other people,” Kyra Pace said about her time in Osceola Thunder. “I feel like she made a really big difference at our school.”