After 38 years, kids’ voices are still music to teacher’s ears
BY ROBYN SIDERSKY
On a recent Friday morning, Clintina Hankerson led a class of fidgety fourth-graders through a handful of holiday songs—first with the lyrics projected onto the white board, then without them.
“I love your spirit. I love your enthusiasm,” she told her antsy ensemble at Lafayette Upper Elementary. “But put it in the song.”
After 38 years of teaching music to Fredericksburg’s children, the much-beloved Hankerson knows what it takes to put on a good show.
“When I do a concert, I’m stressed,” she said, “but the end result is worth it, for the students and parents.”
Parent Tommy Manual said Hankerson is an encouraging voice for students—and not just when it comes to music.
When his son Jackson attended Lafayette and expressed an interest in running for student council president, Hankerson cheered him on, said Manual.
And Jackson, now 15, won.
“It really was a big moment for him when that happened,” Manual recalled. “I just think that she behaved in such a way that she was going beyond what was required.”
Ironically, Hankerson, 62, never intended to be a teacher. She majored in music and minored in psychology at Spelman College in Atlanta with plans to become a music therapist.
She later earned another bachelor’s degree, this one in music therapy, at Michigan State University, then moved to the Fredericksburg area after her husband landed a job at Dahlgren.
For two years, she searched for work as a music therapist, but had no success.
So she wrote to the state Department of Education to find out what she needed to do to become a teacher.
All she had to do, she learned, was student-teach. So she did, in Prince William County.
She was hired by city schools in 1974, and she hasn’t left Fredericksburg since.
“I came to love my job,” she said.
Eventually, she went to the University of Virginia and got her master’s in elementary education, which she says made her feel more “well-rounded.”
‘A REWARDING CAREER’
She’s taught music to the city’s elementary- and middle-schoolers, starting first at Maury School and then moving to Hugh Mercer Elementary, the Original Walker–Grant, the newer Walker–Grant Middle School and last, to Lafayette Upper Elementary when it opened in 2005.
Hankerson also instructed at the University of Mary Washington for 13 years, “teaching young adults about to become music teachers.”
She says her favorite grades to work with are third and fourth “because they’ll do everything.” She’s found fifth- and eighth-graders the most challenging.
Over the years, she’s taught her sons, now 32 and 34, their peers and then their own children.
Several teachers within the school system were her students as well.
Julian Bumbrey was a fourth-grader in Hankerson’s first class in 1974, and he remembers how she carefully demonstrated for her curious students how to use each instrument.
Now a business teacher at James Monroe High School, Bumbrey said he considers Hankerson a role model for how best to reach students at all levels.
“She’s a great teacher and a great motivator,” he said.
Hankerson keeps in touch with many of her former students.
“It’s like a family,” she said. “Because I’ve been in the same place for so long, I claim them all as my own.”
Deputy Superintendent Marci Catlett has worked with Hankerson for many years and also knows her through church.
“She’s phenomenal,” Catlett said, pointing out Hankerson’s knack for using positive reinforcement to inspire her students. “She teaches every student in the building with the same level of energy and engagement.”
When the topic of retirement comes up, Hankerson dismisses it.
“It’s just been a rewarding career,” she said. “Why retire?”
‘THEY’VE NEVER FAILED ME’
Hankerson isn’t trying to groom future “American Idol” winners. She said her role is to introduce children to different music and enhance their knowledge, and hopefully their enjoyment, of it.
“It’s just meeting a child where they are and exposing them to something new,” she said.
She shares with them everything from musicals, to classics, to soft jazz. As for her favorite genre, she says she is “stuck in the ’70s listening to Earth Wind & Fire and Motown.”
Her students are just as diverse as the music she exposes them to, something she loves about the city schools.
And in a packed school—Lafayette has more than 700 students in third- through fifth-grades—she’s always in demand. Most of her students see her once every seven days, making prep times for concerts all the more precious.
Because Lafayette has 11 fourth-grade classes, their holiday concert this year was divided into two parts to accommodate them all.
That didn’t mean Hankerson was going to teach them easier selections.
“I pick very challenging songs,” she said. “I want to pick things the children will enjoy singing and the parents will enjoy hearing.”
She typically orchestrates three concerts per year—one in the fall, one in the winter and one in the spring.
“I become a Wicked Witch From the West in concert time,” she said.
But it works.
“They’ve never failed me,” she said about her students.
Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413