CHS's Alves earns Yale Distinguished Music Educator Award months before retirement

CHS's Alves earns Yale Distinguished Music Educator Award months before retirement

CUMBERLAND - Thinking about her retirement from teaching this year, Cumberland High School Chorus Director Susan Alves said the feeling is bittersweet.

"I feel like I'm graduating again," she said.

Alves has taught at the school for the past 26 years, and at Ponaganset High School for four years prior. Before that, she was a CHS student and a member of the Class of 1978, who participated in the chorus and the pit band playing piano.

But Alves has hit the high notes all the way until the end, earning the Yale Distinguished Music Educator Award. She was nominated by Principal Alan Tenreiro, but then she had to write an essay of her own about the role of music in school reform.

Alves, who was selected as one of 50 winners from a pool of nearly 300 nominees from 45 states, will spend a weekend at Yale University speaking with other teachers during the Symposium on Music in Schools workshop before she receives her award.

"I think it's going to be really fun to network," she said, "and I've never been to Yale."

During her time at CHS, Alves has conducted the choral ensembles and led the Clef Singers as they performed at events from Paris to Washington, D.C. She also spent time as the Fine, Applied and Technical Arts Department chairwoman.

Along with Clef Singers founder Nectar Lennox, she organized the "Celebrating 50 Years of Choral Singing" alumni reunion concert last March, which featured 172 singers.

Living Lessons performances were "just the icing on the cake," Alves said, but those ended when English teacher Carol Hoyle retired several years ago.

Finding teachers who can volunteer extra time away from mandated standards work is increasingly difficult, Alves said.

"I'm just ready to move on," she said. "I miss what it was."

She spends her Wednesday nights at the school with the Clef Singers, and said she now gets teary-eyed in her car afterwards as she thinks about having to say goodbye.

She will also miss her music theory students, Alves said.

"I've loved it here," Alves said. "I think there's something in the water in Cumberland. There's a ton of talent here."

She said she is fortunate to have come across "so many wonderful people" throughout her 31 years of teaching.

"I am kind of young to be retiring. I always expected I'd be here until I was using a walker," she said. "At the same time, it's affording me time to do something new."

Alves said she does not yet have a plan for retirement aside from traveling and working on her golf swing, but she figures she will not be able to sit still for very long.

She may try to revive a community chorus for Cumberland and Lincoln residents, she said.

"I can't imagine not working. It's not my personality," she said. "I'm still trying to figure out what I'm going to do when I grow up."