At a time when dollars for public education have steadily decreased, participation in one middle school's music program has steadily increased.
Pau-Wa-Lu music teacher Tammy Owens stands at the center of this trend. She has a simple philosophy:
"I believe you're dealt a set of cards, and you just play to the best of your ability," she said during a Dec. 5 interview. "I don't do this for a paycheck."
In five years at the school, the 51-year-old Gardnerville resident has seen enrollment in her performance groups alone swell from 32 to 182 students. That number entails those enrolled in symphonic band, advanced band, choir and High Desert Steel. The latter is a steel drum performance group comprised of current Pau-Wa-Lu students and former students who now attend Douglas High.
Owens also teaches two popular elective courses, including music appreciation, which uses a variety of folk instruments, and world drumming, which focuses on African and Caribbean melodies. There is a waiting list for world drumming.
"What we have here are the numbers to justify the teaching hours; we have been very fortunate," Owens said. "I love what I do, and I think that comes out in the classroom."
Owens has been teaching music for 27 years. As a young student herself, she played the clarinet and saxophone.
"I would love to play myself, but by the time I'm done here, I don't want to hear another note," she joked. "When I was in middle school, I knew what I wanted to do."
Owens grew up in Arizona and Colorado and graduated from Montana State University in 1982 with a degree in music education. Leaving behind the Big Sky, she spent 10 years teaching at a K-12 program in Smith Valley, then five years at Scarselli and Meneley elementary schools. While working in the Gardnerville Ranchos, she kept her eye on Pau-Wa-Lu, which she considered, and still considers, the best facility in the district.
She landed her dream job five years ago. She plans on staying at the school as long as she can.
"I like middle school kids because they're bonkers," she said. "I relate to them. I know that if I can harness their energy, what they can produce is amazing."
Fun is definitely present in Owens' classroom. But so is discipline. She often employs phrases like "high energy" and "high expectations."
"They get very excited and take pride in what they do, and that's one of the things I teach students - to sit up with pride and do your best," she said. "My goal is for them to have an end product that they can hold up and be proud of."
Such Panther pride has been spreading in the greater community. Owens had 96 students march in the Nevada Day Parade. The school's choir and advanced band performed at Scarselli Elementary's veterans day assembly, and High Desert Steel has already performed in public five times this year.
"I don't think this program has peaked," Owens said. "It's still growing."
In the future, she envisions three band sections instead of two crowded classes. But for now, she wants the community to check out the program's winter concert, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. tonight in the school's cafeteria. Admission is free.
"Come and see them," she said. "They'll be wound up like tops."
NZNMEA honor choir and band participants from Pau-Wa-Lu
Middle school honor band: Wesley Alexander, Aubrey Putansu, Mackensie Peters, and Matthew Armbrust.
Middle school choir: Raina Gallagher, Angelle Komp, Hannah Buckingham, and Olivia Swearingen.
High school honor choir: Kate Frels, Alexis Carrillo, Hannah Forbes and Lexii Palmos.
High school honor band: Heather Vo, Julie Garcia and McCann Patterson.