Honored rural teacher brings musical passion to classroom

Margie Looney's Orchestra Program meets in their large classroom on the Willcox Middle School grounds. March 23, 2015 Photograph by Alexandra Adamson
Margie Looney’s High School Orchestra Program meets in their large classroom on the Willcox Middle School grounds. March 23, 2015 Photograph by Alexandra Adamson

A love for kids, passion for teaching, love for the subject, a willingness to change and understanding the role of school in a child’s life. Those are the five qualities that can be found in an exceptional teacher, and for Margie Looney she can be called exceptional.

“She helps everyone hands on, she helps improve everyone even the quietest of people,” said Dillyn Armstrong a ninth grade student at Willcox High School. Armstrong has been playing the bass since fifth grade and has had Looney as his teacher for the past four years.

Dillyn Armstrong, 9th grade student of Willcox High School has been in Ms. Looney's orchestra program for 4 years. March 23, 2015, Photograph by Alexandra Adamson
Dillyn Armstrong, 9th grade student of Willcox High School has been in Ms. Looney’s orchestra program for 4 years. March 23, 2015, Photograph by Alexandra Adamson

Margie Looney has been teaching orchestra at Willcox High School and middle school since 2010. This past year she was awarded Cochise County Teacher of the Year for middle schools, Cochise County Rural Schools Teacher of the Year, as well as 2014 Arizona Rural Teacher of the Year, which was chosen in September 2014.

“Margie is my claim to fame,” said Mike Patterson, principal for Willcox Middle School. “I hired the Cochise County and Arizona teacher of the year.” 

What sold him on hiring Looney was not that he was in need of an orchestra teacher and there aren’t many in Southeast Arizona. Instead it was her energy and enthusiasm that she presented during her interview. “That was it, that’s what sold me,” said Patterson. 

Looney has enriched the children at Willcox with her passion for music and her students. “It’s through the love that I have for my students and orchestra that all things are possible,” said Looney while sitting in her light blue painted classroom decorated with Looney Tunes characters each playing an instrument. “We have accomplished so much already and still can accomplish more.” 

Margie Looney helps conduct her students while they play "Hoe Down" from Rodeo on March 23, 2015. Photograph by Alexandra Adamson
Margie Looney helps conduct her students while they play “Hoe Down” from Rodeo on March 23, 2015. Photograph by Alexandra Adamson

It’s through her connection and love for her students that they have achieved and met her expectations. “It’s through the relationships I connect with them and the love that they know I have for them, it makes everything possible,” said Looney.

Her delicate and petite personality helps students feel comfortable around her. After all she is a musician but her ability to clearly teach her students the love of music is a gift rather than a skill.

“Being an educator is the best of both worlds,” said Looney. “ I am still playing and performing with my students. But I am able to share that gift of music with other people.”

Looney was first inspired to become a teacher by her seventh grade orchestra teacher, a woman she remembers as Mrs. Todd. Mrs. Todd installed the attitude of greatness and the ability to teach into Looney at a young age.

Looney's high school orchestra class meets at 12:40 to 1:40. This class includes 9th - 12th grade students. March 23, 2015 Photograph by Alexandra Adamson
Looney’s high school orchestra class meets at 12:40 to 1:40. This class includes 9th – 12th grade students. March 23, 2015 Photograph by Alexandra Adamson

“She would tell me, ‘ I am going to give you the skills to have success and that she believed in me and that I could arise to this occasion because she saw something in me.’ She helped instill that same confidence she did in seventh grade when she told me I had the ability to teach,” said Looney.

“Mrs. Todd is the voice that not only helped me succeed in my viola endeavors but what also helped me start teaching,” said Looney. “I am here because of Mrs. Todd.”

However Looney is a kind-hearted person and does not believe it was only her actions that won herself the three awards.

“Although I have this amazing title doesn’t mean that I am the best. I mean there are tons of amazing teachers right there along side me,” said Looney with a humbled smile on her face. “It was the hard work of my students too. When I won the first thing I did was say ‘Hey class, look what we did.’ We were apart of it together.”

The Fine Arts Department of Cochise County  is not large but it is strongly supported. Ms. Looney is the orchestra teacher for both Willcox High School and Willcox Middle School, which are located right next door to one another. For Willcox the community rallied behind the program with parents would do anything to help support the program.

“I wouldn’t say the arts are dying in Arizona, they just aren’t being pushed. But we think it is as important as those subject like math and science,” said Patterson. “It works on a different part of the brain. It really spices up our day when kids can get excited about going to music.”

Margie Looney helping students tune their instruments one by one before class begins. March 23, 2015. Photograph by Alexandra Adamson
Margie Looney helping students tune their instruments one by one before class begins. March 23, 2015. Photograph by Alexandra Adamson

Many Willcox residents are grateful for the chance to have Ms. Looney as a teacher. With her focus to keep the program strong and her visions for its growth is what keeps her going. With her positive reinforcement, how she breaks down the music for each individual and focus on each student’s technique is what keeps the program strong.

“It’s through the impact I see it makes on my students lives and not only does it help develop talents that they maybe didn’t know they had or are discovering,” said Looney about the Willcox orchestra program and allowing her students the chance at gaining self-worth and understand what it feels to achieve something bigger then themselves.

Looney’s goal is to  teach her students from a level where they can connect and encourage each other to become better, the program would be different.

“She is a master teacher by far and she has only been teacher for 4 or 5 years,” said Patterson.

Looney remains humbled by it all.

“I’m just me, I don’t try to be an amazing teacher, I just love my students,” said Looney.

Click here for high-resolution photos and a short audio of Looney’s class performing. 

 

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