Berwanger leaves St. John's Lane on a good note

Every day, Jay Berwanger delivers the afternoon announcements at St. John's Lane Elementary School in Ellicott City.

On Friday, June 14, Berwanger will give his last goodbye.

After 40 years in the Howard County Public School System, 16 of those at St. John's, Berwanger is retiring.

"It's going to be a very emotional last day," said Berwanger, 62, of Ellicott City. "The kids know I'm leaving, but they don't really understand."

Berwanger is the instrumental music teacher at St. John's. "The greatest in the world," he said.

"I love children and I've got some great kids here," he said. "Music is an enrichment to their lives. A lot of these kids get such a thrill at being able to make music rather than just listening to it. It teaches great discipline and it enhances their lives in so many ways in addition to what the school normally provides."

Berwanger has taught at four Howard County schools that have since closed: Rockland, Faulkner Ridge and Ellicott City elementary schools and Ellicott City middle school. He has seen the county grow and change, but one thing remains — the joy he finds in his work.

"I enjoy when kids come in the very first day and they can't even get a sound out of their instruments," he said. "It's so rewarding, come spring, to hear them play whole songs and be able to read music. Everything they have learned, they have learned from me. That's one thing that gets me up in the morning."

Berwanger has many happy memories from his time as a music teacher. There was the student who named her clarinet "Bob," and would talk to it during class. There was the time he recorded his own 33-1/3 record for his students during America's bicentennial. And then, there are the annual trips he takes with his students to the Inner Harbor to perform. It was there, this year, that his students were able to play the "Star-Spangled Banner" for the Army Field Band.

In his retirement, Berwanger plans to spend more time with his three grandchildren, who live in Severna Park, and travel with his wife. They already have several trips planned: Georgia and Costa Rica this summer and the Finger Lakes in the fall.

Berwanger still plans on visiting his "wonderful kids" at St. John's, going back to the school for concerts when he can.

"I'm going to miss them," he said. "But you sort of know when it's time."

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