Former students give H. Barbara Booker principal a heartwarming surprise (video)
CMSD NEWS BUREAU
H. Barbara Booker Principal Nicholas Scheibelhood was taken aback Wednesday morning when the atrium of the school, which would normally be quiet and empty, erupted with the sounds of a marching band and cheers.
The confusion turned to happy surprise as he made his way from his office to the atrium and saw six of his former students, now 20-something adults, playing their instruments with Booker students looking on.
The musicians were 2009 graduates of the now-closed South High School, where they met Scheibelhood when he was a music teacher. To these students, he was so much more -- a mentor, a father figure, an advocate and a confidant. That’s why Le’Doania Munns came up with the idea to surprise him on his birthday in front of his current students.
“It feels definitely heartwarming to be able to return the favor,” Munns said. “He's always thinking about us, and I just felt like it was great to think about him and return the favor.”
Scheibelhood couldn’t hide the raw emotions he felt seeing his old students, who meant as much to him as he did to them. In true principal form, his first reaction after the music stopped was to yell, half-jokingly, “We have testing!”
The story of Scheibelhood and these students -- Le’Doania Munns, Laciana Munns, Essic Johnson, Jahad Wright, Tiesha Johnson and Darius Johnson -- is like something out of a movie. Scheibelhood remembers his first six weeks teaching at South as challenging. He recalled walking through the halls greeting every student and getting either no response or, in a few cases, a string of profanities. But eventually, his persistent kindness got through to a few of the students.
Scheibelhood’s classroom soon became a safe haven for students who were having a bad day or just needed to talk to an adult they could trust. One day, a group of students approached him and asked if he would help them start a band. Despite having few instruments and no uniforms on hand, Sheibelhood agreed.
The band started out playing on trash cans as makeshift drums. Eventually, they got real instruments and dug up old band uniforms and the ensemble grew to include around 40 students. They started playing at pep rallies and sporting events, where they would receive standing ovations from the crowd, even supporters of the opposing teams.
With their newfound music skills, many students, including Le’Doania Munns, were awarded college scholarships. Some of them chose college majors related to music, and one is even working as a substitute music teacher.
What the students remember most from Scheibelhood, though, is his unwavering support and love. While some of the students were struggling with issues like mental health, family troubles, homelessness and hunger, Scheibelhood was the safe harbor where they could always seek refuge.
Le’Doania Munns said she will never forget how supportive Scheibelhood was of her sexual orientation, when many others weren’t as accepting.
“Being part of the LGBT community, not everybody accepts you and your lifestyle,” she said. “He was there to support me with no judgment at all."
Scheibelhood later attended Le’Doania Munns’ wedding to her wife in Chicago and even chipped in to pay for the wedding, without being asked.
Sheibelhood rarely finds himself at a loss for words, but after seeing his old students, whom he refers to as “my kids,” playing a song he taught them nearly a decade ago, his emotions rendered him momentarily speechless.
While Scheibelhood was helping the South students navigate their personal struggles as teenagers, he was going through his own rough patch, he said.
“I know that I’ve impacted their lives, but they don’t know how they’ve impacted mine,” he said. “I think they saved it, in a way, because it was a rough time, and I knew that they were there for me.”
After the musical performance, Scheibelhood’s former students presented him with a “leadership award” they commissioned for him as a reminder of the difference he made by simply being a positive influence and a caring adult. The ceremony ended with the whole school singing “Happy Birthday” to Scheibelhood. The significance of the entire event happening in front of his current students was not lost on Scheibelhood.
"People dream of this in our job, because everybody wants to be appreciated, but nothing like this has ever happened before," he said.
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