Middle School teachers play a key role in a student’s education, helping them transition from the more free-form styling of elementary education into the rigors of high school. Jessica Bouma of Willowcreek Middle School is one of those teachers, and as the orchestra director, she plays a unique part in shaping how her students see the world.
“I truly believe in giving kids a well-rounded education. I never see my job as just teaching a skill,” she said. “Music is a way of helping students be more aware of their inner feelings and emotions. That’s especially important here in middle school, which is such a foundational time for them. It’s a medium of expression.”
Music’s been a part of Bouma’s life from the beginning. Even at just 3 years old, she begged her mom to enroll her in violin classes.
“She thought it was just a 3-year-old fluke and decided to wait a year and see how I felt,” Bouma said. “I was still asking a year later, and she helped me get going with it. Some of my earliest memories are of her singing and playing the piano with me sitting next to her on the piano bench.”
She called it a cliché, but said her work as orchestra director demonstrated the truth of the phrase “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
“It’s a dream come true,” she said. “I love music so much. It lets you express emotions that you can’t always say through words, and that’s such a joy for me to share with my students.”
Bouma grew in the Region, attending Lake Central High School while living in Dyer. Though she now lives and works in Portage, being able to give back to the community and its youth is one of her favorite parts of the job.
“Every single teacher and educator I’ve had in this area left a big mark on my heart, inspiring me to give back to this community,” she said. “It’s so cool to be back here, seeing these kids open their instrument cases for the first time in 6th grade and watching them grow through the years.”
Still an active musician outside of school, Bouma plays in a number of shows and performances and even organizes a benefit concert every year.
“We pick a different charity each summer that supports the Northwest Indiana area, and the amount of support we get from donators and attendees is incredible,” she said. “You wouldn’t necessarily expect that from Portage or the Region in general, but it’s actually such a hotspot for music and community engagement.”
Bouma is also working on improving her baking and cooking skills, which she’s had a lot more time for recently with everyone staying home due to COVID-19. She also attends bible study each week. Ultimately though, music is the center of her days.
“It all kind of goes back to music, and I do so much of it,” she said. “It truly is my life.”