Regina Weeks is reaching the end of her final year with Starkville High School, and it might be one of her best.
Weeks, a long-time choral instructor at the high school, was recently named the Mississippi Music Educator of the Year at the Mississippi American Choral Directors Association/Mississippi Music Educators Association all-state conference at the University of Mississippi. Weeks said her award was announced at a ceremony at the conference, and she didn’t know going in that she’d been selected, even though her students and assistant teacher did.
“I was very touched,” she said. “I got a little teary there for a little bit.”
This year’s award isn’t Weeks’ first. She’s also won the Ernestine Ferrell Award for excellence in Choral Music in 2015, and was the Starkville School District Teacher of the Year for the 2009-10 school year.
This year SHS also had 24 students selected for the All State Honor Choir, which broke the school’s prior record of 22.
“It’s a wonderful sense of accomplishment, because these kids take this with them for the rest of their lives,” she said.
Benyamin Bardwell, a sophomore at SHS and Emma Crumpton, a senior, are two of Weeks’ students. They said they’ll miss her as they continue through their educations. Both said they’ve taken life lessons from Weeks.
Crumpton, who came to SHS from Starkville Academy, said the biggest thing she’s learned from Weeks is to have confidence in herself.
“No matter what I do now, I have an understanding of myself and other people and how to present myself,” she said. “Even if I don’t feel comfortable or it’s something new, I can still go in and say, ‘I’m good, I can do this, let’s do it.'”
Bardwell’s biggest takeaway has been the importance of cooperation.
“Cooperation in choral music, or any type of group is a must if you’re going to be successful, for singing or any type of activity,” he said.
Setting a standard
Weeks has taught music for 27 years, 17 of which have been at SHS. She said the progress the school has made in her nearly two decades there might be the things she’s most proud of.
“When I first came to Starkville, I left my hometown (of Weir) because I was offered this job to come and rebuild the choral program,” Weeks said. “I thought, when I got here, that it was a ready-made program and I would just walk in the door.
“But that wasn’t true,” she added. “There was no choir — there were four people in a classroom on the second floor of the building, and that was it. Then, there was a small select ensemble of 16 people, and that was it.”
The choral program quadrupled in size the next year, and that quick growth continued until, a few years later, the program reached 125 students.
Now SHS’ choral program has about 140 students. There are four choirs and five ensembles, all of which earn straight superior ratings at competitions. All of the choirs are sweepstakes winners, which means they earn superior ratings by all three judges at contests, and earn superior ratings in sight-reading. For sight -reading, the choir is only given four minutes to look over music before performing it.
“For the first time in the history of Starkville High School, this year, the choirs read on a Level 5 (the highest level) sight-reading,” Weeks said. “We were the only ones in the state of Mississippi that sight read on a Level 5.
“If you want to ask me what was the culmination, that’s what I’m proud of,” she added, “because to know that when they walk out of this door when they graduate, they can read and count anything that’s handed to them. That’s scholarship money in their hand, because MSU and Ole Miss and Southern (Mississippi) and Mississippi College are constantly watching this program right here to see how many seniors are coming to offer them money.”
Though she’s retiring from SHS, Weeks said she still has plans to be active in music. She’s a certified judge, and can judge choral contests anywhere in the United States. She also said she may continue to teach privately.
But now, as she prepares for her final concert, on May 3, she said she wanted to thank Starkville for its support through the years.
“I’m truly thankful for the public’s support and for an administration with this school district that supports the arts,” she said.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.