By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 16, 2019
ATLANTA—Channeling her inner rock star, teacher Jan Collier performed for hundreds of swaying and bouncing students—many she’d soon be seeing in her classroom—as she belted out the new wave, upbeat anthem “Walking on Sunshine.”
“It’s fun. It’s showing them the other side of teachers and faculty. It’s a stress relief,” said Collier between sets in Maloof Plaza at St. Pius X High School. Her students had Advanced Placement English tests to look forward to. But not this day.
“It’s a fun time to chill out,” said Collier.
Behind the metal gate with an oversized school logo, the plaza was rollicking during Teacher Jam on Wednesday, May 1, with pumped up uniformed students and seniors in tie-dyed shirts. Some seniors wore college logos plastered on their uniforms.
For Zach Ranson and Eve Beyer, it was the last time to hear the jam band of teachers and staff.
“(Teachers) get into it and everyone gets into it,” said Beyer, who is off to the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the fall. She said usually the day after the show, the teachers talk with hoarse voices.
“It’s the last hurrah,” said Beyer about Teacher Jam.
Ranson said the teachers-turned-musicians have reputations for being helpful to students. It’s fun to see them outside a classroom, he said. After graduation, he is enrolling at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“It came faster than I thought it would,” said Ranson. “It’s been a very fun four years.”
Mary Fredericks, a junior, watched as her history teacher Ellis Thomas played the saxophone. “There’s times we study really hard and there are times we are allowed to relax,” said Fredericks. “It’s the last fun thing we do before exams.”
The lunchtime concert has been a tradition since 2001. A call goes out to teachers and administrators with musical aspirations to join the band, which has about a dozen members. The performers have about a month of practice to perfect songs for a 20-minute playlist.
“Honestly, I think it’s the best day to be at Pius. It’s a really fun atmosphere and the kids go crazy,” said theology teacher Dennis Ruggiero, who helped spark the jam band years ago.
Ruggiero said the biggest challenge is staying fresh for the students and their changing music preferences.
“We battle each year about what songs to play,” he said, balancing current hits, what songs the band likes to play and what’ll get the students dancing.
With songs made famous by Earth, Wind and Fire to Queen and Blue Swede to Rascal Flatts, the musicians had the students on their feet.
“Seniors, this is it,” teased social studies teacher Scott Carter into the mic. “The rest of your life is downhill.”
Carter, who also coaches the swimming and diving team, is a longtime singer.
“It’s a blast. You do get nervous. It’s a lot of fun,” he said.
Rebecca Rose graduated from the high school in 1996 before the tradition began. A social studies teacher now, she adds her violin to the mix of drums and guitars. One of her featured performances is in the rendition of Queen’s “We Are The Champions.”
“You can have heavy metal violin. It’s multipurpose,” said Rose. “We love jamming together. It is good entertainment.”
The concert, played during the three lunch periods, gives students a breather before the stress level rises with year-end exams.
“We can express our love for them. It’s not really for us,” said Carter.
And with all the drumming and the guitar riffs, there’s a deeper message for students, who are growing up to face adulting: “You never have to give up what you love,” he said.
Mary Beyer calls herself a “frustrated singer.”
An administrator in the school’s development office, Beyer is a backup singer for Teacher Jam.
“It’s my favorite day of the year,” said Beyer. “You are one-dimensional when you are a teacher. It’s nice to see the teachers have talents and passions outside the classroom.”