Having taught music for nearly a dozen years at Brownstown Elementary School, Stephanie Brock said she was asked a few times if it was her goal to someday step up to the middle and high schools.
Each time, the answer was “no.”
But this year, when Jan Willey announced she was retiring after 40 years, school officials asked Brock if she was interested in filling that void.
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After giving it some thought, asking a lot of questions and talking to Willey, she finally said “yes.”
“She was wonderful about answering those questions and helping me come to this decision,” Brock said of Willey. “I was at a point in my life where I was ready for a change, and I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to give it a try.’ The more I heard about it, I thought, ‘I think I can do this. I’m going to give it a try.’”
So far, the transition has gone well.
“It’s still new, but I haven’t regretted it up to this point, so I think that’s a good sign,” said Brock, a Kurtz native. “It’s nice to see the same kids every day and to be able to do more challenging things with them at this level. It’s exciting to come to work every day. These kids inspire me, and it’s just a nice, refreshing change at this point on the journey.”
Willey was Brock’s elementary music teacher and private voice instructor. By the time Brock reached high school, Willey was the show choir teacher.
“She was obviously a profound influence on me becoming a music teacher,” Brock said of Willey.
After graduating from Brownstown Central High School in 1989, Brock started as a music major at Olivet Nazarene University. In the middle of her sophomore year, she transferred to Indiana State University and changed to an elementary education major with a music minor.
When she graduated in 1994, she had built up enough credits that her license allowed her to teach Grades 1 through 6 and music for kindergarten through 12th grade. From 1994 to 1997, she taught third grade at Harrison Street Elementary School in Geneva, Illinois. She and her husband, Clint, had their first child, Cole, and had an opportunity to move back to Jackson County.
Brock led the music program at Brownstown Christian Church for several years until having her second child, Carley.
She then decided she wanted to get back into teaching and served as a full-time substitute for a year at Brownstown Elementary School.
The next school year, the music teacher made a career change, and that opened up an opportunity for Brock.
Love of the job
Brock said that in high school, it never was her goal to become a teacher or come back to live in the area. But she said she is happy that she was steered in that direction.
“I grew up in this community. It’s where my family was, with grandparents, aunts and uncles close by,” she said. “After having children and wanting them to have that experience of having family members nearby, it was a big motivator for us to come home.”
As an elementary music teacher, Brock directed children through three musicals each year. Each grade also sang at the end-of-year awards program, and fourth-graders sang when the school conducted Pioneer Day.
“They are not going to remember very much about music class, but they are going to remember those performances onstage,” Brock said.
“I loved the little kids. They are precious, and they want so much to please you,” she said. “I think music is fun for them. Just their energy and their excitement and eagerness to please is probably what I liked best about that position.”
In her new position, Brock teaches a couple of classes at the high school in the morning and then heads to the middle school for three classes.
“I had most of these kids when they were in elementary, so I’ve already had them and invested in them somewhat,” she said. “Now to see them at this point in their life and the potential that they have and the talent that they have, it’s inspiring every day for me to come to work and just see what they are capable of.”
One thing Brock is doing different from Willey is conducting the middle school and high school concerts on the same night with an intermission between the performances.
“I’ve asked that they attend each other’s concerts because I just think when you are sitting in the audience, that’s a totally different perspective than when you’re on the stage,” she said. “I think when they see all of that in one night, I’m hoping that that will help them become more accountable for some things that maybe we can do better.”
Both schools recently had their fall concert, and others will be in December, February and May.
Brock also will oversee the high school’s annual musical in March, which this school year will be “Grease.” Auditions will be in December, with rehearsals set for January and February.
Brock performed in choir and musicals in high school and led shows while teaching at the elementary and through church, but the high school musical is on a different level, she said.
Willey gave Brock a to-do list that laid out everything that needs to be done in the months leading up to the musical. Plus, Alisha Griffin, who assisted Willey with musicals, is still at the school and available to help.
“I recognize that there are other people who are going to have strengths in areas that maybe I don’t,” Brock said. “I have this vision of what I think needs to happen, but I know that I cannot do everything on my own at the level that I want it to be done. So it’s great to have these resources and dependable people, trustworthy people who are invested in our kids and our schools and our program who can just help to make it better.”
Going to Showchoir Camps of America in Tiffin, Ohio, is something Willey did that Brock is continuing. Brock, Griffin and students went there this past summer.
‘It’s about these kids’
While the students worked with Broadway musicians and choreographers from Los Angeles, Brock and Griffin attended workshops and received free music to take back to school.
“It was fantastic. I was blown away,” Brock said. “When I was a student, we went to camp at Indiana State University, and I thought that was wonderful. But this is on a whole new level. For as long as I am here, I will try to take kids to that.”
Brock said she wants to set a couple of goals each year to improve the program. That could include going from canvas to digital backdrops and staying current with music styles.
“That’s just going to be a challenge of mine every year is making sure that I’m sensitive to what appeals to (students) because, if they are passionate about it, they are going to perform better,” she said.
She also said she wants more people involved, including parents and community members, so everyone feels ownership of the program.
“It’s about these kids and providing something that’s valuable to our community,” she said. “It’s not about me at all. I’ve never been that kind of person where it’s all about me. It’s them. I want them to feel successful and realize that they can take this to a whole new level if they just invest in it.”
Name: Stephanie Brock
Education: Brownstown Central High School (1989); Indiana State University (bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a minor in music)
Occupation: Music teacher at Brownstown Central Middle School and Brownstown Central High School
Family: Husband, Clint Brock; son, Cole Brock; daughter, Carley Brock