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Booker Middle Raises the Bar in Student Identity and Achievement

by Christine Hopkins, VPA Coordinator at Booker Middle School

SARASOTA COUNTY, November 19, 2020 – Booker Middle School is known for its robust programming in the arts, robotics, exploration of languages, and career & college readiness. Last week, Booker Middle School took the area by storm with two significant student successes in the State of Florida and in Sarasota County.

The first blossoms out of Booker Middle School’s Band program. Taltos Fuszfas, an 8th grader at Booker Middle, has been a thriving musician for many years. This year, under the direction of first-year teacher Mr. Zachary McKee, Taltos auditioned for All-State Band. All-State is a program offered to all students across Florida who are interested in auditioning for this elite, hand-picked, band. It consists of only a small number of students accepted within the state. In order to audition, students must record two etudes and various scales, and then submit for review. Only 10 flute players were accepted in the entire state and Taltos was one of them.

The proud teacher, Mr. McKee, shared, “Our students are willing to work hard, and I just need to give them the opportunity to shine! Taltos prepared so rigorously, it’s amazing. He studies privately with Betsy Traba and they have been working and perfecting his repertoire for months. Taltos event-played his scales at a faster tempo than required by the state! It is so inspiring to watch our middle school students be recognized for their accomplishments and to make gorgeous music with some of the best young musicians in the state.”

The second is a story of truth and the understanding of self. Booker Middle student Benjamin McDonald has been a well-known and friendly presence at the school since he started here in 6th grade. Currently an 8th grade student full of joy and positivity, Ben has thrived under the wing of Creative Writing teacher Ms. Joanna Fox. Through a beloved collaboration with Embracing Our Differences, Ms. Fox had students submit quotations for the organization’s annual exhibit. Thousands of quotes are submitted each year and, through the facilitation and teaching of Ms. Fox, Ben submitted the following; “You see the cover of my life, but do you see the pages of my story?” This is one of Ben’s two quotes that were accepted by Embracing Our Differences.

Ms. Fox, awe-inspiring teacher, spoke to the project explaining: “…this year we decided to look closely at what makes us different. We broke the differences down into a microcosm to really look at ourselves and therein we found quite a few interesting aspects of who we are and how we fit into society. Each little difference of us is like a different part of a jigsaw puzzle and you see that if all pieces have the same shape they wouldn’t fit together. So, we do that introspection, we look at the artwork from the past, we look at quotes from the past, and then begin to fashion and form our own. We spend a lot of time on personal discovery, personal identity, and what it means to be human. I believe that when our kids see their words in such a big way and in such a public place, it imparts to them something about the importance of who they are. To champion our classmates whose words are chosen by Embracing Our Differences and to champion the art and words in the exhibit, we then begin to explore the expression of life and the expression of self. And when we do that, then we can express life all the better. Just like Ben.”

The All-State Band will perform in Tampa, and online, at the Florida Music Education Association conference January 13th through January 16th. Embracing Our Differences’ exhibit will be open at Bayfront Park in downtown Sarasota on January 20th and will run through April 1st. For more information on either of these exciting events, please contact Booker Middle School’s Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator, Christine Hopkins, at