This month’s Teacher Spotlight is on high school band director in Carson City, Nicholas Jacques. Thank you, Nick, for all you do for Nevada’s students!
How long have you been teaching?
This is my 10th year of teaching and it is my 3rd school. I taught band and choir at Dayton Intermediate School as a 1st year teacher. After 1 year of teaching in Dayton, I moved to Carson Middle School, where I taught band and orchestra until 2016, and taught band exclusively after that. At Carson High School, I direct 3 concert ensembles, 1 jazz ensemble, the Blue Thunder Marching Band, and 1 section of Music Appreciation. I will teaching AP Music Theory next fall.
You started a new school during a pandemic (this is your first year at carson, right?) What was that experience like?
I was hired as the new Director of Bands at Carson HS in April 2020 during the lockdown. There were many challenges, starting with keeping my middle school students engaged while working on a transition to the high school. Throughout June and July, I hired a marching staff and we started to clean instruments, inventory percussion, and plan for a marching season we initially didn’t even know would be approved. In July, I met with our administration and we determined that Marching Band would be approved, but credit would be deferred to the spring semester to align with the possible re-scheduled athletics season. We still held a condensed band camp in August, complete with bell covers, 8 step spacing, shortened hours, COVID check-ins, and a virtual parent preview performance. Following Band Camp, we began the school year in cohorts, with only half of the school in-person at any given time. Since band students were not allowed to play inside, we set up an outdoor performance venue next to the bleachers and rehearsed outside for the first month of school. If things weren’t strange enough already, the intense fire season brought us smoke and poor air quality that forced us inside, and we adjusted by playing percussion, working on rhythms, and studying music theory. Fortunately, indoor playing was approved in mid-September, and our first notes inside the band room was such a wonderful feeling for everyone to experience again. Students have faced and overcome a substantial learning curve involved with playing just once per week and adjusting to the remote learning requirements at home, such as practicing, recording playing tests, and completing other assignments. I discovered that to ensure nobody falls behind, I offer in-class time for students to take care of items they did not complete at home. While they catch up, I take those moments to work on a more advanced musical selection or skill. This year has taught me to be more flexible than ever. In turn, that flexibility has helped control my stress and increase my level of empathy so my time with students is always a positive experience for everyone.
What are some of your hobbies/things you like to do in your free time?
This year, the hours we are allowed in school don’t allow for evenings or weekends. As a result, I’ve found more free time on weekends than I’ve ever had. I’ve been skiing almost every day I’m not working, and I’ve already skied more than I’ve ever skied in a single season. I’ve had more time to cook, so I’ve learned how to make healthier meals and pull away from the “band director diet” of fast-food and snacks on the long days. I have a long term goal of learning how to paraglide, and I might realize that dream this summer.
Share some of your accomplishments and talk about your involvement in NMEA.
In 2014, I was the recipient of the NMEA New Teacher of the Year award.
In 2019, I guest conducted the Washoe County School District’s 6th grade honor band and the Lake Tahoe Music Camp’s Concert Band.
In 2019, I was Carson Middle School’s Teacher of the Year
In 2019, I was also the Carson City School District’s Teacher of the Year
Later in 2019, I was also selected as one of the finalists for Nevada’s Teacher of the Year.
In October 2019, I was the recipient of the Milken Educator Award.
I first became involved with NMEA in 2015 as the new middle school band chairperson. I quickly learned a new skill: coordinating a statewide ensemble, including mailing music, selecting a conductor, choosing students, and communicating with the other directors. After overcoming the learning curve of the first year, I kept at it because I knew I could do better, and I ended up chairing that ensemble for 5 years. In 2018, I was selected as our Zone representative and I became the overall All-State coordinator in 2019. I never thought I’d be an event planner outside of our own school fundraisers and trips, but I enjoy the process (much more when it’s live than when it’s virtual).
What are some of the highlights of your teaching career?
At Carson Middle School, the program grew from about 90 students in 2012 to over 220 students in 2020. When I taught orchestra, we grew from 30 students in 1 class in 2012 to 50 students in 2 classes in 2016, when we hired a district orchestra director. Our bands consistently earned “superior” and “excellent” ratings, often earning the highest ratings at area festivals. From 2016-2019, the Advanced Band earned the mythical “I+ rating” each year at our Northern Zone Band Festival. Although the ratings are important accomplishments, they aren’t the most meaningful highlights. I live for the experiences we have together. Every time I receive a note from a student, see their face light up when they successfully perform a piece of music, or have fun being together on a trip, I feel my greatest sense of accomplishment. Each year, we travel to southern California for performances in Disneyland and at a couple of area schools. These schools are where my teachers from middle school and high school are still teaching. At one of the schools, we learn each other’s music and perform together in a combined concert. To combine bands with my former teacher is one of the highlights of each of our school years.