There are many important components to a child's education, one of those being music. Since 1985, March has been designated as Music In Our Schools Month (MIOSM) by The National Association for Music Education. According to the National Association for Music Education, "the purpose of MIOSM is to raise awareness of the importance of music education for all children – and to remind citizens that school is where all children should have access to music."
St. Marys native Laura (Zuraski) Jack is a big supporter of school music programs. She is currently employed as an elementary general music teacher with the West Allegheny School District. Her job duties include teaching general music classes for about 500 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, as well as directing fifth grade chorus, which includes two performances a year and a field trip to a local nursing home to spread cheer. Other job duties are developing districtwide music curriculum; mentoring new teachers; assisting in other music activities throughout the district, such as the high school musical; creating and performing musical activities such as plays, skits, musicals and schoolwide assemblies that meet the needs of the school district; and working collaboratively with colleagues to provide students with cross- curricular units of study.
Jack, who is the daughter of Julie and Stephen Zuraski and the younger sister of Amy Zuraski, noted that she always had a childhood dream of being a teacher, while at the same time pursuing activities that fostered her love of performing. She attended Queen of the World School and is a graduate of Elk County Catholic High School, Class of 2003. During her school years in St. Marys, she participated in many performance activities and events.
"I chose activities such as performing in the color guard in the marching band, auditioning/participating in musicals, and dancing in April School of Dance," Jack said. "My junior year of high school, Ted Hanes invited me to work with a children's chorus on the set of 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.' It was during this activity that I developed a relationship with the students I was working with and loved that even more than performing. I loved and cherished that experience and realized being a music teacher could turn that brief experience into a career."
In addition to this experience, Jack explained that there were a number of other area residents who had an impact on her future career choice.
"I had a number of outstanding teachers such as Hanes, Ray Knight, Joe and Becky Sensor, Mike Buchheit and WeeJ Fernan. These teachers, though not all [in the field of] music, exemplified all of the qualities of excellent teachers. [They were] motivating, organized, fair, knowledgeable and invested in the students. I also felt these particular teachers gave me leadership opportunities during my high school years that gave me the confidence to pursue [a career in] education," Jack said.
Jack also credited her family, especially her parents, for the profound impact they had on her life.
"They are the most wonderful and supportive people I have ever known," Jack said of her parents. "Their love and support has never faltered, and even as an adult, I feel their guiding hand upon my choices. Throughout my upbringing it was evident that I was blessed to have hard-working and family-focused parents."
Her grandmother, Louise Samick, also provided Jack with a great deal of inspiration.
"She was a singer her entire life, be it onstage or in the church choir. While spending time with her in my youth, she would tell me wonderful stories about her life, and I wanted to emulate her in my own way," Jack said.
After graduating from Elk County Catholic, Jack completed her undergraduate education at Duquesne University, graduating in 2007 with a degree in Music Education. She went on to participate in a graduate program at Clarion University, completing a degree in Library Science in 2010.
Jack noted that the most interesting aspect of her job is the variety of experiences she faces on a daily basis.
"Every class and every day is different, which certainly keeps life interesting," Jack said. "I enjoy the unpredictability of what each day brings. The most interesting aspect of my job is what I make of it. Because I am solely in charge of my own lesson planning, I can constantly evolve and improve my approach to instruction."
Jack explained that she believes music is a vital component of a child's educational experience that fosters the development of a well-rounded individual.
"Participating in an active music class requires students to develop patience, discipline, sensitivity, creativity and teamwork. In addition, students who participate in music have shown to have higher general intelligence skills in areas such as literacy, verbal memory, visuo-spatial processing and mathematics," Jack said. "Most importantly, feeling success and worth doesn't mean having to be the best. Since music activities such as band and chorus are 'team sports,' everyone's voice truly is important to the success of the whole."
Her biggest challenges include staying current with new trends and practices in the general music classroom, as well as meeting the needs of 500 students.
She added, though, that she would definitely recommend her career path to others.
"Everyday I feel like I am making an impact in the life of a child, even if miniscule," Jack said. "I love my job and wish that everyone could have the satisfaction and fulfillment in their professions."
While she currently resides in the suburbs of Pittsburgh with her husband, Christopher, two dogs and a cat, Jack noted that her home and neighborhood is comparable to those in St. Marys.
"The major difference in living is probably access to the 'city.' Because I live only about 20 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, there is access to professional sporting events, cultural events, restaurants, and an insane amount of shopping. [It is] not necessarily a good thing, but it is different," Jack said.
She added that she tries to make it back to St. Marys when possible, mostly for holidays and family events.