Earlier this year, Stefan Botchie was selected as the 2014-2015 Emerald High School Teacher of the Year in Greenwood, S.C.
It was the first time Botchie, a Selbyville native, had received the prestigious award, which was announced over the speaker system at the school the day before spring break.
“All my kids were in the band room, and they just went nuts,” he said with a laugh. “That was pretty funny.”
The Teacher of the Year is selected through a two-step process, where the names of the school’s teachers are printed on a ballot, and the teachers within that school are requested to vote for the three teachers they feel are most deserving.
“The next ballot that comes out has the refined list. From there, you select one,” explained Botchie. “I didn’t expect it. I just go to work and have fun. I don’t expect anything but to make music with the kids. It was cool being on the same ballot with other people I really respect. That was neat.”
Botchie graduated from Indian River High School in 2003. While attending Indian River, Botchie was a member of the chorus, concert band and marching band. In his senior year, he served as drum major for the marching band.
During his time in the Indian River School system, Botchie was taught music by Ken Schleifer, Neil Beahan and Mark Marvel.
“Every one of them, they just really enjoyed what they did, even though I probably gave them a hard time here and there,” he said. “I knew from a young age that music was really what I wanted to do.”
“I knew he would be good — he was one of my drum majors, and he was crazy. Mostly in a good way,” said Marvel, who is the band director at Indian River High School.
Botchie said that, along with his music teachers, he was also inspired by his father, who was a math teacher and later a school administrator.
“He enjoyed it. It seemed like the most rewarding experience,” he said. “They all seemed to be having fun, and I wanted to have fun too.”
In 2008, Botchie received a bachelor’s degree in music education from Anderson University in Anderson, S.C.
“When I was in college, part of our curriculum was going into different schools and doing clinicals. I did clinicals in elementary, middle and high schools. Even then I knew I wanted to do this,” he said. “It was an exciting five years. Music ed was a tough program. It normally takes five years to complete it. It was tough and intense. But God knew what he was doing.”
During his time at Anderson University, Botchie — whose personal specialty is brass, having played baritone and euphonium — learned how to play other instruments, as well.
“In college, we had method courses in percussion, strings, woodwind and brass. It’s part of the curriculum. I took all those classes and also took piano lessons,” he said. “I try to play something every single day to keep my chops up. That way, when I’m teaching students, I know through experience. ‘Try this. This might work for you.’”
Botchie currently resides in Greenwood, S.C., with his wife, Shelley, and two children, Eli and Evelyn.
“I think God put it in my heart, ‘this is where you need to be,’” he said of attending Anderson University. “That’s where I met my wife. We met in band — go figure. It’s a decision that I’ve never looked back on.”
For seven years, Botchie has served as band director at Emerald High School, where he oversees a wind ensemble, swing band, brass quintet, woodwind ensemble and marching band, which includes the color guard and front ensemble.
“Having these extra ensembles for the kids to play in, it exposes them to a wider variety of music and gives them more chances to express themselves. Like jazz band — that’s completely different from concert band. The smaller ensembles are easier to take out and around in the town and play different things.”
For marching band, Botchie’s students compete in four to five competitions each season. Last weekend, his band received second place in their class and “Best Drum Line” at a competition.
“It’s nice to go and see other bands and what they’re doing,” he said, noting that the band will be participating in the Upper State Marching Band Competition. “We’re looking forward to that.”
For four years, Botchie has also been teaching approximately 50 middle school band students, along with the 40 who are in his high school program.
“The high school is still newish. It used to be a junior high for a while,” he explained. “I’m hoping to continue to grow the program. My kids will tell you I expect a lot out of my students. Some kids don’t really enjoy that. I think music is good, and I want them to play at a high level, so some kids might not want to put in the extra effort and practice, so they’ll find something else to do, which is fine.
“I joke with other colleagues, ‘Sometimes it’s about the quality and not the quantity.’ I have a great group of eighth-graders coming up. I’ll, hopefully, get a big increase in the high school program.”
Last year, Botchie also offered to teach music to students in his school’s special education program, during his planning period.
“They spend all day in their classrooms and don’t really get to experience regular classes. I’m good friends with their teacher, and last year I said I’d like to teach them. Teaching them for 30 minutes a week, I think, has really opened up their lives and brightened their day. They’re able to communicate nonverbally through their music. What’s cooler than that?
“I’m seeing them being more outspoken in class. They’re more extroverted… They’re really awesome. I just think, without music, I don’t know how possible that would be.”
Botchie said seeing the students connect with the music is an extremely rewarding experience.
“In order to do well in music, you have to practice at it. I think when the student finally figures it out, they just light up, like, ‘Oh, man — I didn’t know I could do that. That’s really cool. I want to do more of that.’ I think that’s one of the most rewarding parts — is when it clicks and they realize it’s hard but they figured it out.”
Emerald High also recently hired a choral director, with whom Botchie said he looks forward to working.
“We’re going to start doing some stuff together,” he said, adding that he includes choral work in his band lessons. “We sing in class: simple stuff — our parts or rhythms. There are some pieces that we play that require the band to sing a part. It’s a really neat effect when band people sing something, because it’s not really expected, but it raises that level.”
As a universal language, Botchie said, music makes a difference in people’s lives.
“I think that’s what music’s all about — enriching lives. And it’s cool to see kids enjoying themselves and just having fun,” he said. “It’s so enriching and so rewarding. As a performer or as a listener, music is its own language and can really speak to you on many levels. It can communicate many different feelings. Without music, I think life would be empty.”
Botchie also keeps busy performing for himself and aspires to eventually continue his education.
“I do sing in the praise band at church and play guitar. I do a lot of stuff at the community theater — I act, sing, play music and direct. I stay fairly busy.
“I do plan on going back to school and getting my master’s, and maybe a doctorate. I would like to teach at the collegiate level. Ultimately, I want to be a conductor of my own symphony orchestra or philharmonic. I enjoy conducting and enjoy working with people and making music. I tell my kids, ‘You see notes and rhythms on the page, but we’re trying to take that and get the music out of it.’”
Botchie is the son of Debbie Botchie of Selbyville and Steve Botchie of San Pedro, Calif, and the grandson of Charles and Charlotte Hawkins of Selbyville, whom he thanked for their ongoing support.
“Thank you to my family — my grandparents, my mom and my dad — for supporting me in this. I know it was tough for them to have me move away. Without their support, it would’ve been even harder,” he said. “It’s been great to have their support.”
Botchie said that receiving the award was an honor but, at the end of the day, it’s all about teaching his students to love and enjoy music.
“It’s not about the recognition, but it’s nice to see people regard me in that way,” he said. “I love teaching… I really love what I do.”