Jason Erickson after accepting a Crystal Apple at a ceremony sponsored by the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation. Jason Erickson says that there isn’t a spot he has spent more time in his life than the music room at Clear Lake Elementary — where he has been a teacher for nearly two decades.
It is evident, however, that all of Erickson’s hard work over the years hasn’t gone unnoticed.
On Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Historic Elsinore Theater in Salem, Erickson was one of 12 recipients of the Crystal Apple Award for excellence in education and for his significant impact on the lives of his students.
Erickson was humbled just to be nominated by the teachers and personnel that he has worked with.
“It’s an honor, of course, but the nomination is a bigger deal to me mostly because it comes from my peers, so they actually know what I do,” Erickson said.
Shelley Percey, a third grade teacher at Clear Lake Elementary, wrote one of letters nominating Erickson on behalf of the school.
“Jason’s dedication to music education, community involvement and connections with students goes above and beyond the realm of his job description,” Percey said in the letter. “Mr. Erickson’s commitment to music education goes way beyond his contracted school day.”
Clear Lake principal Artonya Gemmill echoed Percey’s sentiments.
“Jason Erickson is someone that truly thinks about how to reach students through music. He works to include all students in class. He is kind, caring and he keeps students engaged in learning,” Gemmill said. “He is one that will support students and staff at any time. He makes learning fun for kids. He’s a very talented musician and song writer and really loves what he does.”
Erickson’s dedication to his students, and the Keizer community, manifests itself in many different ways. He has made it a tradition to take his fourth and fifth grade students to see the Oregon Symphony every year.
Erickson will also take his students to the Willamette Lutheran Retirement Home during the holiday season before they go off to sing at the state Capitol.
“I want kids to be civic minded. Those retirement homes can be lonely places, so bringing a busload of children to sing is pretty rewarding to see,” Erickson said. “We want to make well-rounded people who are nice to each other.”
Erickson has also made it a habit to use himself as a prop, giving kids motivation to reach specific goals — like a certain number of jog-a-thon pledges. Over the years, Erickson has died his hair pink and even had cafeteria leftovers dumped on is head if his kids meet their intended goal.
“It’s all temporary, but if it gets the kids fired up, it’s worth it. We want kids to be glad to be here. If you take away all the fun stuff and make it all about tests and sitting at a desk, they don’t have anything to buy into,” Erickson said.
But Erickson’s commitment to the kids of Clear Lake doesn’t end there. He routinely uses his prep time to help students out in some of their other subjects. And currently, Erickson is attempting to have the school install an outdoor learning space.
“I want to get kids outside more, because it feels like they’re stuck in buildings and behind desks a lot or looking at screens,” Erickson said.
While on the surface Erickson seems like a pretty lighthearted guy, he takes his job very seriously and puts a lot of pressure on himself to give kids the best music experience possible.
“I’ve had a lot of people that say they have had bad experiences with music in elementary school and that has turned them off to music for the rest of their lives. That’s horrible, so I feel a big responsibility in this position to give kids the best start I can. I’m just hoping to set them up for future success,” Erickson said.
Erickson was born with an innate ability to make music. By the time he was five years old, Erickson could play music by ear just by hearing it on the television or radio.
Eventually, Erickson, who is originally from Arizona, graduated from Northern Arizona University, where he majored in music.
After graduation, however, Erickson wound up working at a hardware store for 18 months. But after looking online for a teaching job, he found an inquiry for a temporary, part-time position at Clear Lake.
Even though it was more than 1,000 miles away, Erickson didn’t care. And when he first walked through the doors at Clear Lake, Erickson knew that this is where he wanted to be.
“I realized once I got to the school for my interview that it was a special place,” Erickson said. “I didn’t really look at it as a huge leap of faith. I just really wanted to get started on my career.”
Erickson started working at Clear Lake in January of 2001. When the previous teacher, who was on maternity leave, elected not to return to her job, Erickson was brought onto the full-time staff.
“I stumbled into this job because I needed a job, but as it turns out, elementary music is probably where I fit the best,” Erickson said.
Erickson’s classes focus a lot on singing and learning how to listen to a beat. Eventually, he will have his students playing percussion, keyboards, guitars and several other instruments, along with teaching how to read music, harmonize and perform — with the goal of trying to help his kids perform beyond their grade level.
“I enjoy taking students farther than adults probably think they should go. My choirs tend to sing music that is designed for middle school,” Erickson said.
While it’s been almost 20 years, Erickson passion for his job is still undeniable.
“Like any job, I have really good days, and then there are days that are really hard. But I’m having fun with it, and if I’m having fun, chances are (the kids) are going to be having fun, too,” Erickson said. “This music room is a big part of who I am.”Jason Erickson after accepting a Crystal Apple at a ceremony sponsored by the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation.