It was fitting that a
steel drum played happy rhythms for Ana Pena’s surprise retirement party on June 7th.
The Miami Lakes Middle School director of band cried joyful tears as colleagues celebrated the woman who taught music to children for 39 years.
“It’s been my life,” Pena, 61, of Hialeah, said. “I think of it as a service. And I think I served the kids with my heart and my music.”
Pena and her husband Jorge Pena, 61, have three children and two grandchildren; two of their children became educators.
Pena taught at Miami Lakes Middle School at 6425 Miami Lakeway North for 28 years.
“We are going to miss you,” Principal Maria Medina said while presenting Pena with a crystal award. “What a pleasure it was [to work with you].”
Pena received a Bachelor of Arts degree
in Music Education from Florida State University and a Master of Science degree in Music Education from Florida International University.
She also said she became nationally certified to teach anywhere in the country.
But returning to a classroom is not likely to happen soon.
The golf course, where she has a handicap of about 22, as well as a home the family built a few years ago in Ave Maria in Collier County, await them.
It was clear from Pena’s sendoff that it will be difficult to replace her.
“She’s awesome and amazing, the love and the passion that she has for the kids,” Medina said.
During the pandemic, “we had a lot of difficulty engaging the online students,” Medina said. “She made it work.”
Pena obtained recorders for the students to play while they learned from home.
She had their parents pick up the instruments and she cleaned everything to comply with COVID guidelines, Medina said.
“She is just a person who gives extra and more than what’s expected,” Medina said.
Pena created the marching band, concert band, jazz band and beginning band, for students who are new to music.
The kids also marched in the annual Miami Lakes Veterans Day Parade and performed at the Festival of Lights on Main Street.
Pena previously taught at Lake Stephens Middle School in Miami Gardens and North Miami Junior High School.
To the teachers who gathered for the party where paella and cupcakes decorated with musical notes were served, Pena said, “I wish you the best. Teaching is a great, great profession.
“We do it because we love it,” she said. “We don’t do it for the money, I’ll tell you.”
Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid, Vice Mayor Luis Collazo and Councilman Joshua Dieguez presented Pena with a proclamation that described her career. Cid announced it was “Ana Pena Day.”
So how did she inspire children to learn an instrument, and then to practice?
Maybe her own passion for music rubbed off on them.
“It’s so important to give that inspiration, to have it continue,” Pena said. “I brought it to the kids and that makes them happy.”
She called music “the soul of education. I know math and science and English are important.
“But music makes the child whole. Studies show that people who learn music and instruments do very well in their lives,” she said.
As for getting students to practice, she said it was important to set goals.
“It’s something to reach for, a standard,” Pena said. “And I raise the bar high.”
Having the young musicians perform at town events was part of their community service hours, “and community service is very important,” Pena said.
“They are part of a team and they belong to something. We’re like family.”
She also designated
kids as band captains and secretaries, giving them additional responsibilities and help develop leadership skills.
As for the reluctant students, she found encouragement worked well.
“When you do well, you feel good about yourself,” Pena said. “It makes them feel good when they do good things.”
Among her favorite memories is teaching a blind child to play the flute, and to get through to “kids that are very quiet and in shells and the music opens them up,” Pena said. “Their parents are amazed at the transformation.”
She said her legacy was “to share my passion, and get them to learn skills, be creative and be independent. Become good people through music.”
Pena said “a lot” of her former students became band directors and teachers.
“And I’m very proud of that,” Pena said.