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2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Jessica Corry

Jessica Corry

Band Director
Plank Junior High School
Oswego, Illinois

Plank Junior High has unique and hard-working students, according to Band Director Jessica Corry. “Working at a Title 1 school can sometimes feel like you are constantly dealing with a broken system, but once you have a little bit of success with your students, it makes all the struggles worth it. I’m always amazed at how much adversity students can take on and still prevail,” she says.

Corry increased communication in Spanish to reach Plank’s growing Spanish-speaking population and to grow her program, which currently has 170 members. In the spring, she asks current students if they are willing to call incoming Spanish-speaking families and invite them to instrument fittings. “These calls are always very well received and appreciated,” she says.

She also takes her band members on tours of elementary feeder schools, sends postcards to all incoming families, and holds instrument fitting days to help guide new and potential band members onto instruments that they match with best. These extra efforts to communicate with band families has worked! At the band’s recent state performance, more than 100 family members drove three hours to cheer on their students. Plank parents’ support has been unwavering, according to Corry. “They are so grateful to have teachers who will work hard for their students and are always willing to step up and support when the time comes. Having so many families come out to our performance was a testament of the power and impact of what we do daily and the importance it holds in our students’ lives,” she says.

Corry also makes sure that she is seen throughout the day at Plank outside of the music department. She is currently a breakfast supervisor and sees students who come in early for breakfast to start their day. In past years, she was the main door greeter and was the first face every student saw in the morning. “By the end of the year, pretty much every kid in the building knew who I was and what I did. I would say that I have at least five students each year who join the band just because they wanted to take my class, or had a friend who loved band. That means something,” she says.

Another area where Corry is seen is at in-school suspension (ISI). “I start my day working with ISI students,” she says. “I view these students as my own during this time. We go through all their classes and assignments and make a game plan of how they will work to tackle new or old/missing assignments. We also discuss how they can change their behavior or reaction to situations they find themselves in to avoid coming back to ISI. I always end the ISI period by saying, ‘I’m happy to see you today, but I hope I don’t see you back in here again.’”

Corry recognizes the invaluable influence of mentors. “I entered education due to some fantastic music educators who impacted my life, and I wanted to pass that along to other students,” she explains. Corry is an advocate for making relationships with music educators in the area and having them come out to her classroom consistently, especially at the beginning of the school year. “Feedback from a seasoned educator has a lot more impact during the first month of the school year, opposed to a few weeks prior to a performance,” she says.

She would like to pay it forward and be available to other educators who also teach at Title I schools. “Sometimes, we just need to know that there are other people in our situations who make it work, and all we need to do is connect with them,” she says.