Randolph, NJ- With a loud voice that commands respect and conveys high expectations, Dawn Russo is a force to be reckoned with.
Through the creation of a classroom environment that combines learning with a sense of caring, Mrs. Russo, who teaches music at RHS, has cultivated a new generation of musicians and music lovers.
“Music forces you to make emotional decisions.” she said with a wistful smile and a sparkle in her brown eyes. As she explained her method of teaching, which includes adapting to students’ different learning styles, she often made hand gestures to supplement her answers, as if conducting an invisible orchestra.
Russo, who came from Illinois, first traveled to the East Coast while on a field trip as a high school junior. Her experience, filled with vivid memories of festivals and musical performances, inspired her to become a music instructor.
She enthusiastically recalled one of her countless memories as a music teacher of thirty years. “When I was teaching little kids in Piscataway, I taught 200 beginners that were mostly fourth and fifth graders. I had a little clarinet player come up to me and she said, ‘Mrs. Russo I have to catch the bus, but I need to buy reeds! You know, clarinet reeds.’ And I said, Okay, do you want two or two-and-a-half?” And she said, ‘Just one please,’ ” Mrs. Russo recalled, her face turning red with laughter:
Russo said students benefit both psychologically and developmentally when they learn to play an instrument. In her opinion, without such emotional development, humans would evolve into something comparable to robots. “She gets things done while making sure we don’t turn into robots.” said sophomore David Popkin.
Russo isn’t about to let any of her students become robots. In fact, in order to tap the full potential of her budding musicians, she tries to find the best way to teach each one as an individual.
“I like to learn from kids how they think because not everyone learns the same way,” Russo explained. “So then you can’t, you shouldn’t, teach things the same way because not everyone’s going to process it. It helps me to talk to the kids to see how they think, to make them explain things to me, and how they came up with the answer,she added, happens a lot in my music theory class.”
Russo makes sure that everyone works hard and puts in their best effort, and she pushes students so that they can become the best that they can be. While she does remind them of the consequences of not working their hardest, she also places more emphasis on the rewards of good musicianship.
“We’re constantly reminded of grade deductions if don’t do our best," said Jordan Mast, a junior. "At the same time, she’s awesome and very friendly.”
Russo has had plenty of experience teaching different age groups; however, her favorite group is definitely high school. “I love to interact with high school kids because they have thoughts and emerging opinions, and I just like that,” she said. “I like to work with kids like that. I like to help them explore.”
But that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t enjoy teaching other age groups; in fact, younger children have actually taught her the difference between mindsets. “One time, I said to a child, ‘Play a B Flat or be dead.” as a joke. And a kid raised his hand and asked, ‘How do you play a B Dead?’” she recalled.
In the end, Dawn Russo isn’t simply a music teacher; she is a lifelong message that will carry on in students’ minds for the rest of their academic and musical careers. She teaches good lessons; she values timeliness the most.
Often, she is found saying: “If you’re on time, you’re late.”
Dawn Russo also serves as the Randolph High School Marching Band Director.
Editor's Note: Cindy Gao is a student at Randolph High School participating in a journalism program with TAP into Randolph.