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2023 "40 Under 40" Educator Corey Graves

Corey L. Graves

Director of Bands
Tony A. Jackson Middle School
Forney, Texas

At Tony A. Jackson Middle School in Forney, Texas, the band hall is a fun place! That’s because Director of Bands Corey L. Graves has invested heavily in relationship building. “When you walk into our band hall, you see students who feel a deep sense of family and belonging,” he explains. “Our goal is to make every student in the program feel valued, heard and understood. When students know you care, they will go the extra mile every time!”

Graves enjoys teaching at the middle school level. “I love being a part of students’ introduction to music! Middle school is where the magic begins! Students are SO impressionable! I want every student to feel the same joy I had when I began my musical journey,” he exclaims. “Music was more than just a class for me. It was a space where I could be myself unapologetically!”

It is during these first influential years that students learn not only the fundamentals of making great sounds, but also how to practice, create self-discipline, push themselves to perfect skills, focus on teamwork and embrace delayed gratification. “Here students learn that failure is not the opposite of success, but a part of success,” Graves says.

It’s no wonder that his students love band. “It’s the first place most of them visit when they get to school, and the last place they leave before going home because the band hall is a strict ‘positive vibes only’ haven where everyone feels safe to be themselves,” he explains.

On top of this positivity, Graves runs a very structured and process-based program. “Our band culture is built on high expectation, not high pressure,” he says. “We strive for every student to reach their full potential by being their best, not the best. My students thrive on this type of accountability and usually far exceed their own goals! I stand in awe of the jaw-dropping music these young students are capable of playing.”

Graves credits much of his growth as a music educator to the 11 years he spent at Roma Middle School. “I received great mentoring from Dena Laurel, the Director of Bands at Roma High School and a team of teachers who were committed to high expectations, student-centered education, and a true passion for music. We were able to reach some remarkable heights with our students,” he says. “I’m often asked why I moved from Roma after seeing so much success with my students. In short, I was given an opportunity to move closer to my family and establish something new. I believe those same successes can be created anywhere if the students are a part of a culture where they feel connected, supported, valued and empowered! Kids can do ANYTHING!”