For Maureen Garry, former music teacher at David Cameron Elementary, teaching music may have been her work – but it was also play.
Maureen retired this past December after 14 years of teaching and tireless advocacy for musical education. For her retirement, her co-workers gifted her a wooden box. On one side it says “Maureen’s Soapbox.” On the other side, it says, “They aren’t rants, they are pearls of wisdom.”
She laughs as she recalls the story. These ‘pearls of wisdom’ often focused on one of the most foundational beliefs of her career: the importance of music education.
When Garry started at David Cameron, music classes were offered sporadically and billed as a “relief” program – a block where homeroom teachers could take a break while students studied under another instructor.
Eventually, a full-time position opened up, and Garry took the spot. She then proceeded to take the school’s music program by storm.
“I always wanted to build a culture of singing and music in the school, so that no child leaves saying, ‘Oh, I don’t do music.’ You know, there’s lots of adults that say that. ‘Oh, I don’t sing, I don’t, I don’t’ … because they don’t have the experience,” said Garry.
She set to work, starting extra-curricular groups, setting up contests, curating displays in the school hallways, instituting a music program over the PA system, arranging performances at assemblies, entering CBC’s Canadian Music Class Challenge, throwing talent shows with students and staff, and taking students to perform all over town, from malls to libraries to seniors centres.
“You name it, we did it,” said Garry. “Just made it really a visible piece of the school, and tried to get as many people involved as possible.”
To her, some of the most rewarding times were seeing what she calls the “ah-ha moments” – when music would click for a child. She recalled a time when a student in one of her classes proudly proclaimed: ‘I’ve never sung that loud before, it felt great!’
“I’d see them in kindergarten, where they’d come in and really know very little. Then when they’d leave in Grade 5 … they’d go with this whole battery of experience and lots of skill,” said Garry.
She didn’t limit her enthusiasm for musical education to just one school. Garry became actively involved in music education on the West Shore, serving as president of the Sooke Music Teachers Association. She received provincial recognition for her work, netting the Professional Music Educator Award for the elementary level by the B.C. Music Educators Association in 2015.
“I just loved what I did. I think it’s really important. I think there’s not a lot of opportunity for kids – not as many people go to church, not as many people have their kids in Guides or Brownies, places where they would sing. Without that, kids don’t get an opportunity to express themselves in that way,” said Garry.
One of her proudest moments is hosting one of the largest Music Monday gatherings in the country, hosting nearly 2,500 students at the Q Centre to join in a nation-wide singing event.
Though she’s recently retired, she hopes that the West Shore community who worked with and supported her will continue to build on her legacy.
“Just building the awareness of music in the district – and this is not just me. Being a part of a group that worked towards having music for all students in the district, and making it a priority in schools, and supporting each other in doing that. Just bringing it to children’s lives. That’s one of the things that I hope that I leave behind. I hope that people continue to be passionate about it,” said Garry.
Maureen Garry is the 2021 Educator of the Year.
Nominations for the 2022 Local Hero Awards West Shore open on Feb. 25. To learn more, go to hero.goldstreamgazette.com.
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