OKEECHOBEE- On May 26 the school year officially ends in Okeechobee. But in August when students return there will be one less elementary school in the area with a music program.
South Elementary’s music teacher, Ryan Reister, moved earlier this year leaving a vacancy at the school. The Okeechobee County School District opened a job listing seeking a new music teacher for South. But due to a lack of applicants, on May 9 the Okeechobee County School Board approved changing the personnel allocation at the school from a music teacher to an agriculture teacher.
“There just aren't applicants for the elementary level as most want middle or high school in this area,” said South Elementary principal Lonnie Steiert. “Ryan was one of a kind. He was also one of my former fifth graders and he taught music the way his elementary music teacher taught him. It was something I loved to see. He was a rare and amazing music teacher and there are few like him.”
Steiert says the school is keeping all the music instruments and equipment and that other staff members have volunteered to keep the chorus going.
With the loss of South’s music program, only two elementary schools in Okeechobee remain that offer music classes - Central and North.
Both music and band have been a path for many students in Okeechobee to earn accolades at the state and national level. At the same May 9 Okeechobee County School Board meeting where the music allocation at South was deleted, the district recognized Jayden Azcona for his achievement with the Osceola Middle School band. Azcona made history this year when he earned a spot in the All-State Band. OMS band director Chris Bowen said Azcona was one of only 90 students in the state to be selected for the honor.
Also at the May 9 meeting, eight OMS Band students were recognized for earning a spot in the 43rd annual Four County Honor Band. Students were handpicked for the Four County Honor Band from Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St Lucie County.
In 2021 the Okeechobee High School Brahman Band made history when they finished in fifth at the Florida Marching Band Championships Finals.
Steiert is hopeful to one day add music back to South Elementary.
“Just as we have added Science Olympiad, Debate and 4-H clubs this year, we are adding opportunities for coding in fourth and fifth grade next year through regular classroom instruction,” said Steiert. “These opportunities are a result of extra time and effort put in by our staff. We will continue to offer as many opportunities as possible for our Eagles”
“We hope to one day add music back at South and maybe there will be more applicants at that point in time,” concluded Steiert.