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New Chesapeake music teacher begins on high note

CHESAPEAKE — After 31 melodious years, veteran music teacher Sandra Lemke retired this spring from the Chesapeake school district, and judging from the uniformly wistful reaction of students and staff alike, she will be sorely missed.

Third grader Jaley Bennett spoke almost reverently of her former teacher, expressing a child’s admiration for an instructor clearly loved and respected by her former students.

“She was really nice,” said a smiling Bennett, a sentiment echoed by fellow third grader Makayla Mayenschein. “I really liked having music (class) with her.”

It is into this void that Bethany Himes stepped this fall, becoming Chesapeake Elementary’s new music and choir teacher.

An audience of several hundred parents, teachers, and fellow students watched as third graders belted out “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Everything is Beautiful” to begin the 45-minute program of spirited songs, dance routines, cheers, rapping, and even a mock boxing match.

Throughout the performance, Himes, conductor’s punch in hand, smiled and sang, grimaced and grinned, contorted her face, gestured with her hands, and shimmied with her entire body, extracting from the children every last ounce of effort they could muster. At evening’s end an appreciative audience cheered the kids, as well as their teacher, who stood in the auditorium

doorway and gave a “high five” to each child as he or she left the stage.

Himes spoke of the passion she feels for music and of its power to inspire kids.

“I believe God called me to be a music teacher,” she said. “Teaching music is my ministry.”

And she knows of what she speaks, as she is also the choir director for the 26th Street Baptist Church and a member of its gospel group, “The Page Family.”

She adds, “All of the glory goes to Jesus Christ. Without Him I’m nothing.”

When asked what it was like to take charge of the hundreds of students formerly taught by a woman she calls “a legend,” she replied that it was a bit intimidating but that Lemke was very gracious and friendly. Himes stated emphatically that she received her students “very well prepared” by their former teacher.

As for Himes’ abilities in the classroom, Fran Herrell, Chesapeake Elementary’s assistant principal, characterized Himes’ teaching style as “upbeat,” saying she “gives and expects respect and has an innate understanding of children and their needs.”

Graduating cum laude in 2000 from Marshall University with a degree in Music Education, Himes came to Chesapeake Elementary after having been a traveling music teacher for two years at Meadows and Spring Hill elementary schools. During that time she also taught for a year at Culloden Elementary in Culloden, W.Va.

“Kids love and crave the arts,” Himes said. “Get kids to love music and you can teach them anything.”