The positive vibe in Janice Kueppers’ s classroom was evident as soon as I walked in. The room was colorful, with pictures, trophies and words of encouragement filling the space.
As one student came out of his audition for the LAUSD Honor Choir, which my visit coincided with, he ran up to Kueppers and gave her a big hug. Her words of encouragement, said with ease, helped to calm his nerves.
At first glance, Kueppers, the vocal teacher at for more than 18 years, is all warmth and encouragement. Dig deeper and you’ ll also see a talented musician with an uncanny knack for bringing out the talent in the many students she teaches and mentors.
“She really knows how to improve voices,” said eighth grader Maya Zhobi, “I used to be really shy and quiet and now I am one of the loudest. She worked with me and made me feel more confident about myself and my singing.”
As the woman from the Honor Choir packs up, she mentions to Kueppers how impressed she was at the students’ ability to sing the Hebrew verses of their audition song. Kueppers humbly responds, “They’ re very talented.”
But the woman retorts, “No, you’ re awesome.”
As Kueppers nears her two decades at Walter Reed Middle School, her resumé is lengthy. Every year her musical groups compete at Disneyland, in San Francisco and at an A Cappella Scholarship Festival where they have won the 75 trophies, plaques and certificates that adorn her room. In addition, her students were
the first middle school students to appear on stage at Disney Hall with the L. A.
Master Chorale and the first to appear on stage with the Northridge Singers at
Cal State Northridge.
These honors have not gone unnoticed and Kueppers was asked to be the guest director of the LAUSD Honor Choir at the Nokia Theater this past year. She is a regular participant in Arts Education task forces and has hosted 16 LAUSD choral festivals.
Kueppers, a New York native, knew she wanted to teach from the age of 10, when she helped a developmentally disabled friend memorize her questions and answers for her confirmation. She graduated from Wagner College, in Staten Island, with a major in Spanish and a minor in education, but wracked up 17 music credits while she was there "just because I loved it so much," she says.
"I am so convinced that the arts should not be considered electives or enrichment, but a part of the core curriculum," she says. "I witness what music does for my students every day. I am so grateful to work at Walter Reed MS which has 3 full time music teachers."
And, it’ s no accident that Kueppers has stayed at the same school for so many years, as she attributes Walter Reed to much of her students’ success.
“ I love it here,” she says. “ The support for the music program from the parents and the administration, who all come to concerts, is wonderful. And they trust me. I thrive in my independence, which is evident in our competitions.”
The music department at Walter Reed was also one of three finalists, out of 70 competing schools, for the . Kueppers played a large part in this honor, but credit should also be given to the school’ s music department as a whole, which has been recognized for its excellence countless times.
In her spare time, Kueppers can’ t stay away from the music. She sings in two quartets and is a member of the Verdugo Hills Showtime Chorus, which specializes in four-part acapella harmony, barbershop style. Kueppers serves as Assistant Director and section leader of this all-female group. She is also learning to paint and would like to take painting classes when she retires in two and a half years.
As if teaching and performing isn’ t enough, during the last several years Kueppers has put on another hat, as fundraiser. She recently organized the Third Annual , a benefit to help raise funds and awareness for women’ s breast cancer research and children’ s cancer research. With the help of the Walter Reed administration, her students, both current and past, and amateur and professionals alike, she sold over 350 tickets.
Including the silent auction, raffle baskets, sale items and the bake sale, this year’s event surpassed last year's total amount by $2,500, for a total reaching a little more than $8,000.
For Kueppers her day doesn’ t end when the last bell rings. Like all those
wonderful teachers we remember because they made a difference in our lives, she puts in the extra effort, well beyond the 8-to-3 of a typical school day. The proof of this dedication is obvious not only in her students’ success while at Walter Reed, but also years later, when those students she mentored and nurtured are long past middle school.
“She was really nurturing and always positive so she made it really easy to continue singing after middle school. Also, it was really rewarding for us because we knew she was enjoying teaching us as much as we were enjoying singing,” said Maddie Johnson, a current UCSB freshman, whose barbershop quartet, led by Kueppers, continued singing and competing well into high school.
It’ s inspiring to see the teacher in action. And even more so to see her young
students realize their potential because someone not only believes in them, but also knows how to bring out the best in them. It’ s a powerful combination, and her students are the lucky beneficiaries.