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Stephens Musicians Earn Highest Honors

The musicians at Stephens Middle School have become state champions. The Stephens Middle School Concert Band earned the Platinum Award, designating them as California State Champions, at the recent California Festival of Champions, sponsored by the California Music Educators Association. The Stephens Advanced String Orchestra earned the festival's Gold Award as statewide runner-up. Their competition was the culmination of a long competitive process, requiring the two groups to earn "Superior" ratings in another sanctioned event before they could compete at the state level. Dr. Andrea Kay, who teaches the two groups and coordinates all bands and orchestras at Stephens, points out what is unusual about the high performance of her culturally diverse instrumental groups: none of the students has had private lessons. All their state-championship skills were acquired strictly in their classes at Stephens. "A lot of our kids are free lunch and free breakfast kids," Kay said, noting that their families have been a big help. "Our parent support is ideal. Whenever I have asked for their help, they are right there." Now in her fourth year at Stephens, Kay shares music instruction at the school with Paula Pelton, who teaches vocal and steel drum ensembles. Current enrollment in music at Stephens stands at about 400 students, near the maximum the school can handle, and interest among parents and students is growing. Kay credits a supportive administration, headed by principal Michael Troyer, for creating ideal conditions for growing the championship music program at Stephens. She thinks he is the latest in a long line of LBUSD administrators who have walked the talk of supporting music education throughout the decades. "Long Beach has always had a great reputation as a place for music instruction," said Kay, who has taught music at all levels from kindergarten to college. "When I was looking for a place to work a few years back, all my friends said, 'Oh, you've got to try Long Beach. You'll get the support to do with kids what you want to do.' I haven't been disappointed yet." Troyer is quick to credit Kay and Pelton for this year's success. "They could teach at the university level, but they have chosen Stephens," Troyer said. "Our kids are so fortunate."