Lowell is home to a number of amazing teachers, and one of them was recently recognized as being among the best of the best in the state.
Wendy Tenney, an orchestra teacher at Lowell Middle School and Lowell High School, was selected as one of ten Regional Teachers of the Year by the Michigan Department of Education. As one of the 2018-2019 finalists, Tenney is now part of an advisory council that will meet with lawmakers, teachers and others to promote quality education in the state.
Growing the Orchestra Program
When Tenney arrived at Lowell Area Schools after graduating from Michigan State University, the district only had a dozen orchestra students. In the 14 years since then, it has grown to approximately 400 student musicians in the middle school and high school.
“I poured myself into improved the orchestra program here at Lowell,” Tenney says. However, she is quick to credit the district’s other music teachers as well. While Tenney leads the three high school orchestras and the 6th grade beginners, Joe Oprea leads the main middle school orchestra. Tim Haan, the band instructor, also works collaboratively with Tenney and Oprea to develop the music program in Lowell schools.
In a world in which kids and adults are increasingly “plugged in,” Tenney says music offers an opportunity for students to make connections. The orchestras are like families with everyone working together to a common end. Being a part of the ensemble helps kids develop traits such as respect, care, support and cooperation.
“People are still hungry for working together and being part of something that’s bigger than they could be by themselves,” Tenney says. Orchestra provides students with an experience beyond what they might otherwise achieve on their own.
Special Appreciation for Teens
The teenage years are a time of transition, and it takes a special teacher to help guide students through this tumultuous time. Tenney is one of those teachers.
“I like that they are at such an exciting part of their life,” Tenney says. While some people bemoan the challenging teen years, this teacher has a different perspective. “I love harnessing that energy and drive.”
To do that, Tenney has adopted a teaching style that lets students take leadership roles and help drive the direction of the program. She’s confident they won’t let her down either. “They like to be successful,” she says.
The Lowell Area Schools orchestras have been successful too. The top groups regularly earn 1s at State Festival, the highest ranking possible. The various orchestras also participate in about 20 events each year, performing for friends, family and the community.
Gaining a Platform at the State Level
The process of being chosen a Regional Teacher of the Year is lengthy. Tenney, who was nominated by a teacher whose child is in the orchestra, had to gather and submit multiple letters of recommendation. She then had to complete essays, including a video essay, about her teaching style and philosophy.
Now that she’s been selected, Tenney has a spot on the 2018-2019 Michigan Teacher Leadership Advisory Council. “This is not just an award but earning a platform,” she says. With the other council members, she’ll review issues pertaining to education in Michigan and make recommendations.
“We present at some state school board meetings and act as liaisons around the state.”
Tenney is excited by the opportunity to work with other stakeholders and find common ground. “We all want what’s best for the kids,” she says of teachers, parents and legislators.
While the chance to make a difference at the state level is an honor, Tenney says her biggest joy can be found in Lowell Middle School and Lowell High School. “I’m proud that my students work passionately to do well,” she says.
And her students would probably say the same about their orchestra director.