By Aria Brent,
AFRO Staff Writer
Jared Perry is still riding on the wave of emotions that come with being named the 2023 Teacher of the Year Award for the Baltimore City Public Schools System.
Perry is the band director and arts team lead at the historic Booker T. Washington Middle School for the Arts. Still speechless at points, he spoke with the AFRO just days after receiving the honor.
“I’m just glad to see Booker T. in a positive spotlight. To have this and to see the students smiling.”
In addition to teaching, Perry works with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra via the OrchKids program, a school-based youth orchestra program for Baltimore City youths. Perry is a brass teaching artist. In this position, he leads various ensembles, mentors teachers and works with kids from across the district.
Perry spoke with the AFRO about his biggest motivation for the work.
“The students– you just fall in love with them and what they’re capable of,” said Perry. “You fall in love with the fact that they go through so much and they persevere and come back everyday.”
Perry said he takes pride in developing not only the musical ability of his students, but their character as well. Inside of his classroom, students learn ways to cope and reduce stress with their musical instruments.
“They’re not adults, but you’re training them to be an adult. They face the same things- they face hunger, they face financial issues, they face all different types of things,” he said. “It’s not a Baltimore City thing– it’s a world thing. Everyone’s growing up and learning how to be. So we’re just helping them in the process and giving them the wisdom that we’ve been given.”
With a bachelor’s degree in instrumental music and a master’s degree in the art of teaching from Morgan State University, Perry is no stranger to hard work. Now, he’s also helping develop the next generation of music teachers. For the last six years he has been allowing students from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to observe and learn from his teaching practice.
Perry’s impact as a musician and teacher is widely recognized by his students, peers and administrators. Johawn Heughan is one of Perry’s students and explained why he enjoys learning from the band director.
“Band allows me to make songs, learn new songs
] make rhythms– there’s a whole bunch of new things you can learn. Mr. Perry is a great teacher,” Heughan told the AFRO.
Craig Alston, a popular musician in the region in his own right, has worked with Perry at Booker T. Washington for more than a decade, watching him evolve as an educator.
“It’s not just about the music, he cares about each one of the students individually as people and he meets them where they are,” Alston said. “That’s why he’s able to connect with everyone. Mr. Perry is not just a teacher, he influences almost everything that happens in this building.”
Principal of Booker T. Washington Middle School for the Arts, Rashida Ford, highlighted the importance of having dedicated, Black male educators like Perry in the classroom– especially in a field like music, which she says is dominated by White teachers.
“The most important thing is representation–it matters,” said Ford. “Our kids are consistent with music because he’s consistent. They are advancing in ways that are unimaginable. You have kids who come into this program who are not reading any music at all–never had any formal experience playing the instrument. These students are not only creating or reading music now, but they’re also conducting and composing their own music.”
Band student Shaniya Pittman joined the band so she could make her own beats and instrumentals for her rap lyrics. She said she sees Perry as a role model.
“He’s like an uncle to me or a father figure. He makes me push through even when I’m having rough times,” said Pittman. “Music takes it off my mind and makes me happy- I can see what I did.”
Perry is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. In fact, the latest award seems to have given him a fresh wave of energy to fulfill his purpose.
“I’m still grasping the enormity of the situation–the enormity of this responsibility, this role and this honor,” said Perry.
Standing in his classroom, surrounded by instruments, Perry thanked the students he continues to serve.
“If students don’t enroll in this program, they’re going to bring something else. They’ve consistently chosen band–they’ve consistently come back,” he said. “Thank you.”