Magic abounds during the holidays, especially for children.
At Killearn Lakes Elementary School, the students are giddy with the spirit of the season and much of that is due to music teacher Vicki Rhodes. She puts on an annual winter program unlike any other school production.
Rhodes has taught music for 42 years in Leon County, 30 of them at Killearn Lakes. When she arrived at the school in 1989, she took over the nascent staff chorus and a time-honored tradition took hold.
The winter program showcases a rotating catalog of holiday standards and is performed at the school for students and again at Chiles High School’s auditorium for family and friends. The fifth grade chorus is always part of the production and, each year, a different grade level is also highlighted. Students sing, play instruments, dance and, as a culmination to the program, they perform with the staff chorus.
This year, the staff chorus is comprised of about 25 members of the faculty and school employees. Many of them join because they have a life-long love of music, others have been coaxed by their students.
“Kids were bribing their teachers this year,” laughed Rhodes. “They were getting on their knees and giving them candy. One of the teachers came to me and said ‘why did you put this kid up to that’ and I said ‘I didn’t.’ All I say to the students is if they have a favorite teacher, ask them to be in the staff chorus.”
Jan Roberts is the school’s speech language pathologist and she’s been in the chorus for 25 years. In that time, she’s seen how captivated her students are by the program.
“The kids, all year long, will ask you if you’re going to be in the staff chorus again. The first time they see it in pre-K on, they say ‘when I’m in fifth grade, I’m going to sing with you.’ They look forward to it and they talk about it for years. It’s an honor to them and a privilege. They think we’re cool,” she laughed.
Rhodes treasures this time when her students are filled with wonder and excitement. She also recognizes that as they mature, that feeling can sometimes fall away. “All children, no matter how sweet they are, when they get to middle school, they’re going to change. This is the last time these kids are going to dance with their teachers. They may not realize it right then, but it’s a special moment.”
The production is always memorable but some years are particularly poignant. This will mark two faculty members’ final year in the chorus. Both Sherri Brown and Leslie Frohlich are retiring and this winter program is their last hurrah.
Brown is a second-grade teacher and has been at the school since it opened in 1985. She was a member of FSU’s Marching Chiefs and has often played her saxophone in the winter program. This year, she will be performing her favorite, ‘Feliz Navidad’ on alto xylophone along with her second-graders who will accompany the song with maracas.
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