The Craven Community College Foundation has chosen a man of note for the Community Fabric Awards Leadership in Education — Havelock High band director Jorge Benitez.
Benitez has been the director of Havelock High bands since 1994, directing not only the award-winning Marching Rams, but also a jazz ensemble, concert band, symphonic band and wind ensemble.
He had no idea he was up for the award.
“I got a call from the president of the community college and I was shocked,” he said. “I didn’t expect it.”
His principal, Jeffrey Murphy, had nominated Benitez for the honor but never told him.
Benitez is a 24-year teaching veteran and also a veteran of the North Carolina Army National Guard, with which he served for 10 years. Part of that service included assignments with operation Desert Shield and Desert Strom with the 213th Military Police Company.
He is an alumnus of East Carolina University, from where he graduated Magna Cum Laude.
The Fabric Awards committee lists a number of reasons it chose Benitez over other educators in Craven County.
“Mr. Benitez … leads the way among Arts teachers when it comes to the implementation of district or state initiatives and new curriculums,” a news release stated. “With the help of other music personnel at the school, Mr. Benitez has generated classroom processes designed to implement initiatives such as PDSA and Learning Focused Lessons in the music classroom.”
Asked why he won the award, Benitez was quick to throw the attention from himself.
“The type of community that we try to build here is not just a teacher teaching students,” he said. “We bring in the parents. We have a group of band boosters that makes this work: not just raising funds, but traveling everywhere as a group, helping the students to be where they need to be on time, seeing that everyone has what they need.”
He sees his profession as not just teaching, but as creating an atmosphere “where students and parents feel the reward of their hard work that they do.”
His philosophy of teaching has changed over the years.
“When I first started teaching, my biggest concern was having the right notes being played at the right time, with a lot of musical expression,” he said. “What I’ve learned over the years, is that music is the avenue to get to the student, to teach that student how to be a good citizen who leaves high school and is able to have a complete life. I use music to get to that kid.”
His wind ensemble and symphonic band both received superiors from judges at the recent Music Performance Adjudication (MPA) that took place at Havelock with 53 bands traveling to perform.
“You work on three pieces of music for about seven weeks,” he explained. “They also had to read a piece of music that they’d never seen before to show that they know how to read music.”
His wind ensemble played Variance on a Moravian Hymn by James Barnes, “Sevens” by Samuel Hazo and the Semper Fidelis March for the competitions.
“The best thing about music is no day is the same,” he said. “The other thing is, that what we’re able to create as a group of kids is unbelievable. The sum of all of us together is so much better than the sum of one person (playing alone).”
He said the band is doing great.
“I am very impressed with their work ethic, the kids’ eagerness to learn,” he said.
He has seen a number of his students go on to professional careers, at least 13 as teachers and even one, Deborah Nansteel who sang with his jazz band eight or 10 years ago, who now sings opera at the Met.
The Community Fabric Award isn’t the first Benetiz has won. Among his other awards is the Time Warner Cable “Star Teacher” award, the “VFW Teacher of the Year,” the North Carolina Bandmasters Eastern-District Award of Excellence and local “Teacher of the Year” from Walmart.
His “positive impact upon Havelock High School, the city of Havelock and Craven County Schools is impossible to quantify,” the CCC release continues. “However, he is without a doubt an outstanding educator who is most deserving of being the Havelock High School teacher spotlighted by the Craven County Board of Education.”
“It’s awesome,” Benitez said of the award. “There’s so many people in the community that make our community great. Being chosen as one of them is amazing. I don’t do what I do for awards, but being chosen for something like this is kind of cool.”