While teaching his 7th Hour Percussion 1 class, fine arts teacher Jay Long was left speechless.
Principal Karen Calcaterra, followed by Rockwood faculty, colleagues, students from other classes and family walked into the room to congratulate him for being one of the 15 Rose Award winners.
“Are you serious? Oh my god. Oh my god. This is insane,” Long said while being handed roses and balloons.
Long has been teaching at Lafayette for 10 years and primarily teaches percussion classes during 6th and 7th hour and at Rockwood Valley.
“I’m fumbling because I am just so surprised,” Long said. “This is the biggest honor that I could think of.”
Though he wasn’t 100% on what it meant when he was nominated, Long had heard about the award and what criteria get a person nominated. With dozens of staff nominations throughout the district, Long didn’t think he had the chance.
“The more I felt about [the criteria,] the more I was like ‘those are awesome and I’m super proud to be nominated, but there’s no way that I’m gonna [win,] they only pick 15 of them,'” he said. “And now I’m finding out I’m one of those 15? I’m just super surprised and very thankful.”
As a teacher, Long said he does his best to influence his students beyond the world of music.
“My ultimate job as a teacher is to teach them about percussion and band, that’s my job about music, but more importantly my job is to teach them about life and how to succeed in life and what’s worked for me, what I hope I can pass off to them,” he said.
Fine Arts Department Chair Lauren Sakowski has known Long for over 23 years.
They met in 1999 while marching for a Drum and Bugle Corps based in Iowa called the Colts. They taught together within the corps for five years and later while Sakowski was at Lafayette, a job opened up looking for a teacher that fit Long’s description. She said she is very proud of him.
“Unbelievably well deserved. He is such an amazing human being, person, and teacher. He looks intimating but I like to call him a big teddy bear. I just love that he is being honored in this way and recognized for his incredible contributions,” Sakowski said. “He’s not just a good friend, he’s family.”
Unlike Long, his students were not surprised to see him win the award. Senior Will Scott wanted Long to be recognized and decided to ask students in the two percussion classes to vote for Long for the Rose Award.
“I got everyone together and said I think it would be a really cool idea for us to write him a nomination to see what we could make happen,” Scott said.
Naming him his best teacher, Scott said he thought the nomination would be a great way to show Long how much he means to his students.
“He’s just an incredible teacher. The connection that he has with all of us. He’s like one of us, a friend to all of us,” Scott said. “A lot of us are in marching band as well, we’ve spent so much time with him and have really gotten to know him. He puts so much effort into everything he does.”
For Long, one of the best parts of being a teacher is seeing his students have their lightbulb moment.
“When a student can’t get it right away, there’s that moment that something changes, and all of a sudden they can get it. That’s what drives me to teach and that’s what makes me want to give them the best that I have because I’m asking them to give the best that they have, too. They’re awesome and I just love my students so much,” Long said.
Several of Long’s family members attended to celebrate the award with him, including Long’s two sons, Jace and Grayson. Jace was excited to miss school to congratulate his dad for being a great teacher.
“I feel like he deserved it a lot,” Jace said.
Though he said it is amazing to know he and his classmates were able to honor him in this way, Scott said it’s not about them.
“It all goes back to all the work he’s done. I’m glad we could do it for him,” Scott said.