Scenes from the retirement celebration honoring Amidon-Bowen music and choir teacher Para Perry included (top, left) Perry dances with students; (top, right) DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferabee appreciates the Amidon-Bowen Step Team led by teacher Jacqueline Cook; (bottom, left) Perry accepts a ‘Grammy Award’ for Best In Southwest; (bottom, right) Fifth graders give roses to Perry.  Courtesy of the Author

By Willem Dicke

After more than 20 years of teaching at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School, beloved music and choir teacher Ms. Para Perry retired at the end of the 2023-2024 school year. On Friday, June 7, school staff and students, along with members of Perry’s family, church and well-known public figures including DC Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Lewis Ferebee and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, gathered in the school’s gym to celebrate the woman who for almost a quarter century has been a cornerstone of her school, church and the Southwest DC community. Under Perry’s leadership, the Amidon-Bowen choir performs annually at the Kennedy Center and has performed for U.S. presidents including Bill Clinton.

Perry has been teaching for 44 years, including 34 years in the DCPS system. She started teaching in Washington in 1989 at Garrison Elementary School and has taught music and choir at Amidon since 2001. She has received numerous accolades, including the 2015 Excellence in Teaching Award Winner by the DC Public Education Fund.  

She is passionate about the importance of music and the arts to child development and works closely with her students and their families. More than just a teacher, Perry is often referred to as the “school mom,” especially for those kids who have lost parents or who face difficult challenges in their young lives. She gives love and support to all of her “babies,” as she describes them, who love her back in return.  She shares her students’ talents with the larger school staff, teachers and parents through frequent and highly anticipated performances, including the school’s Black Heritage Program that she has run every February for 24 years. In the tribute video part of the program, Perry stated that “Not only do we celebrate Black history at Amidon-Bowen, but also Hispanic heritage, Pacific Islanders…whatever kids are in my class.  Through music, we try to find out more about each other.”

The program on June 7 reflected her commitment to excellence and to her motto of “children first.” After a thunderous welcome as she walked into the gym, Amidon-Bowen students greeted her with a moving rendition of the “Angel Song,” which, as Amidon fifth-grader Langston Curtis explained to the packed audience, was a song that Perry taught to all of her Pre-Kindergarten students throughout her teaching career so that the children would not be “scared at night because they have angels to watch over them.” This was followed by the ­­­­graduating fifth graders each putting a rose in the vase that had been placed beside her, along with a red carpet, an oversized chair and an elegant backdrop. The video was set to the Amidon-Bowen song “Shine,” to which Perry penned the lyrics. Fifth-grader Langston Curtis explained that the song was about “how all the teachers help us,” and that “the things we like about Ms. Perry is her fiery attitude and that she always believes in us.”

Speaking after Garrison’s former principal Andrea Robinson, Amidon-Bowen Principal TaMikka Sykes, who herself is leaving Amidon-Bowen, told  Perry that “your legacy is a mirror of what you see in this tribute to you today. The attention to detail, the expression, the songs and the videos…the brilliance of the students wearing their ‘best in Southwest’ t-shirts, a term that you coined.” 

Amidon teacher Teneshia Griffin and the third graders then brought the house down with an encore dance performance of last February’s Black History Month’s “Motown Tribute,” a mashup of songs that included the students running to embrace Perry during Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” as Perry enthusiastically danced along with them. Third-grader Amalia Vandenberg said, “From choir to history celebrations, students get to perform with the leadership of Ms. Perry to make memories that are unforgettable. Just like music, Ms. Perry will always live in our hearts.” Amidon’s step team, led by teacher Jacqueline Cook, entered the gym and gave an exhilarating dance performance after a video presentation.

Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen told Perry that “arts and music are a core, fundamental part of our educational values, and you have lived that every day.” DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee praised the student performances and quoted poet Maya Angelou, saying, “‘people may remember what you say, may remember what you do, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’ I can say as the leader of the system that you have impacted so many people with the heart.’” He presented Perry with a ‘Grammy Award’ that mimicked the actual one “for being the best in Southwest.”

But Ms. Perry will not go quietly into retirement—she will be the choir director of the Children’s Chorus of Washington’s new Southwest campus at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church (222 M Street SW) in September 2024.

Willem Dicke is the Amidon-Bowen First and Second Grade DC Scores soccer coach. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.