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May 21, 2011
by: Dollie Cromwell

John Peña, Music Teacher

Music has always been a part of John Peña’s life. His mom, Janice Peña, is a classically trained guitarist who taught music at elementary and middle schools for more than 30 years. John says he’s been making music for as long as he can remember.

He started taking piano lessons in first grade. In addition to piano, he plays the guitar, all brass, woodwind and percussion instruments, the banjo and the mandolin. He’s been in several bands through the years – from garage bands in high school to jazz groups in college. Some locals may recall his stint with the band, Sheboygan Collective, a couple of years ago. He’s now in the process of putting together a band with some friends.  He will write the music, play the guitar and sing for the as-yet-unnamed group.

John, 38, has been a music instructor in the Sheboygan Area School District for the past decade and is a familiar face at area schools. He has taught music at Alternative, band at Wilson and Cooper, guitar classes at Horace Mann and Urban, strings at Longfellow and also helped with Jazz Band at Farnsworth and Horace Mann. This fall, he will teach music at both the Mosaic school and IDEAS Academy. 

 “I kind of had a clean slate to start from,” he recalls of his early days with the district. “The administration gave me total freedom in deciding what to do, which was really nice. That allowed me to rethink the traditional music education that we offer students.”

John has a bachelor’s of music education from Concordia University in River Forest and a master’s of music education from Northwestern University in Evanston. Before joining the SASD, he taught private music lessons in Chicago and music at Kansas City Lutheran High School.

Being affiliated with charter schools has been a natural fit for John, who has the experience and the training to provide a more diverse music experience.

“Charter schools offer choice and personalization for both students and teachers,” he said. “Some people are simply ready for something different, for change and reform. While the world around us is in constant change, sometimes education takes too long to catch up, but charter schools seem to be ahead of the curve in that regard, which appeals to certain students and teachers.”  

Since music is so much a part of his daily routine, he admits that he goes in cycles. “Sometimes I’m very motivated to create and play music outside of school, but other times it’s the last thing I feel like doing.”

When John needs a little escape from all things musical, he heads out with his kiteboard or spends some time in his garden.

“I’m passionate about the health of our soil,” he shared. “With the extreme population we have on our planet – coupled with our disregard of sustainable agricultural practices – we are on track to run out of usable land for the cultivation of crops.”

As he looks to the future, John says his plans include traveling the world in a sailboat, having some type of farm experience and maybe even doing some volunteer work in a third world country. But for now, he’s delighted to be making a difference close to home.

“I hope to play a small part in the creation of the next generation of young people: artists, workers, creators, innovators, thinkers, achievers and culture-makers.”  

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