OCOEE Dozens of instruments sit ready for little hands in Lisa Hewitt’s classroom at Westbrooke Elementary. A row of mallet instruments lines one side, and a collection of hand drums stands behind them. A piano is tucked in one corner, while Hewitt’s classic guitar is ready in the front.
Yes, it looks like the perfect room for budding musicians to learn treble clefs, middle C’s and eighth notes. But if you ask Hewitt what she teaches in her room, the lessons go beyond music.
“I want them to experience the true depth of emotions,” Hewitt said. “There’s more than just happy or sad. We’re building that vocabulary.
“And we don’t judge,” she said. “We may listen to music from a village in Africa, and the kids may say it’s weird. But weird is a judgment, and I try to go beyond that. What are they doing? Why are they singing this song? What does it mean? (These lessons) permeate everything.”
That philosophy is why Hewitt recently was named the Florida Music Educators Association’s 2016 Music Educator of the Year. Hewitt will be honored at an awards breakfast at the FMEA Professional Development Clinic/Conference Jan. 15, 2016, at the Tampa Bay Convention Center.
Florida Elementary Music Educators Association President-elect Rosemary Pilonero nominated Hewitt for the honor, and former students and parents also wrote letters on Hewitt’s behalf.
Hewitt is a 31-year veteran teacher who has spent her career teaching in schools in Seminole and Orange counties. She has been named Teacher of the Year four times and was an Orange County Public Schools Teacher of the Year finalist in 2010.
Before becoming Westbrooke Elementary’s first music teacher when it opened in 2008, Hewitt taught at Dillard Street Elementary in Winter Garden. She credits two people — former music minister Ron Wells and her aunt, Zula Wood — for helping develop her love of music and education when she was in South Carolina.
“My aunt was my first piano teacher,” Hewitt said. “And she probably doesn’t realize the kind of influence she had. Then in fourth grade, my music minister, Ron Wells, saw that I had (musical) talent. He actually came over to talk my parents about getting me guitar lessons.”
Once those seeds were planted, Hewitt later picked up the upright bass and enrolled at Stetson University in DeLand to pursue her music education degree.
“There weren’t many stand-up bass players, and everyone needed one,” she said about her instrument of choice. “I was in seven different ensembles at Stetson.”
Hewitt also is a certified Orff educator. The Orff Schulwerk is an education model that combines music and movement to make music more accessible and meaningful to all students. Especially at the elementary age, it can be hard to identify students who have a natural talent.
“You plant the seed, and you never know where that’s going to go,” she said. “So, you treat every student like they’re going to be somebody great.”
Beyond teaching, Hewitt grabs an occasional gig when a local ensemble needs an upright bassist. But above all, her focus remains cultivating a love of music — and life — at Westbrooke.
Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].