Matt Jones is teaching music lessons to a class many cannot control. One little boy is slouching in his seat. Another yells if you take off his Elmer Fudd look-alike hat. And right across from Jones, there’s a student crying and banging his fists on the table.
But Jones starts a steady beat. His 6’3” body is sitting up perfectly straight and his hands keep on beating against the small round table.
“Say your name, and when you do, we will say it back to you,” he sings to his class of four male students and one female. Jones points to each one of the middle school students.
The only girl in the classroom yells her name. She’s in a wheelchair and received permanent brain damage from a car accident when she was a baby.
Jones and the rest of the students yell her name back. She doesn’t stop smiling, and her dark eyes are focused on Jones.
“One, two, three, four,” another quietly says as he tries to keep up with Jones’ beating. He grabs Jones’ arm and laughs when he masters the beat.
For the past year, Jones, a senior music education student at Ithaca College, has been student-teaching at a public Ithaca School District middle school to children with autism and other disabilities.
The teacher at the middle school said when Jones comes in to teach, he’s the highlight of the day for her students. The children, who normally have trouble sitting still, all behave when Jones begins his lesson.
“Matt has a unique gift for teaching,” the teacher said.
While other music students dream of performing up on stage in front of a packed house, Jones, who is currently student-teaching in Skaneateles, N.Y., has dreamed about making a difference in a student’s life. Last summer he was a camp director for a music camp at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania for students with disabilities.
For his senior year, he spent at least two days a week at the middle school — in addition to taking his own classes to complete his major. On Wednesdays, he was teaching at an Ithaca
elementary school from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and his Saturday afternoons involved giving private lessons to children. His schedule was packed with teaching, leaving him with free time only when he was traveling from school to school in his car. But he
“Teaching is so rewarding,” Jones said. “I have always wanted to do that with my life.”
Jones isn’t the teacher who says goodbye to his students at 3 p.m., and that’s it. After realizing that his students at the middle school didn’t have any instruments, Jones held a benefit concert with them on March 5 to raise money to buy an instrument cabinet and instruments for them. The concert raised more than $700, and money is still being sent in. But Jones was more touched by his students, some who can’t even talk, playing in the concert.
“It was so amazing to see them perform,” Jones said with a smile.
His mother, Louanne Clink, attended the concert.
“I had tears in my eyes,” she said.
It’s his selflessness and consideration that sets the Lansing resident apart from other students. Whether he’s saying “Hi” to the UPS guy while pumping gas into his car or telling a female student standing next to him in choir that she “did a really nice job” after hitting a note, Jones is an all-around nice guy.
“He’s always been a sweet, considerate boy,” Clink said.
As he gets ready to leave the college, he’s going to be greatly missed. But senior Michele Buzzelli, his best friend and roommate, knows that Jones — the friend who spent summer nights gazing at the stars on the back porch of their Circle apartment — is going to go far in life.
“He’s going to make a name for himself,” she said. “Kids are going to know who Mr. Jones is.”
Buzzelli knows she won’t meet anyone else like her roommate who got a matching tattoo of the letter ‘B’ to show that in life, you just “have to be.” She said she doesn’t even want to think about life after college because without Jones, it won’t be the same.
“He would jump in front of a bus to save you without thinking twice,” Buzzelli said. “There aren’t many Matts in the world.”
Names of students, the teacher and the school were omitted to protect confidentiality.