music class in Hillsborough Co. Public Schools

“Finding Their Genius” – Music Education in Hillsborough County Public Schools

Jon Casanas is a music educator at Lanier Elementary School in Tampa. He’s the one who gives your children the recorder in fourth grade and teaches them to play “Hot Cross Buns.”

Thank you for that, Mr. Casanas.

More importantly, he is a teacher who understands elementary school is much more than math, language arts and science.

“My favorite part of being a music educator is the fact that I can help kids find their genius, help them find their voice,” Casanas says. “I have worked mostly in Title 1 schools and some kids have academic challenges. They are really struggling. But they might be the lead singer in my rock band, or a natural with a guitar or drums.”

Students playing guitars

Casanas has dedicated his professional life to the students at Lanier Elementary. Is it a 7:40 a.m. to 1:50 p.m. job? Hardly.

Casanas works hours before school, after school, on weekends – whatever it takes to continue to nurture the kids who have taken a passion for music.

He is one of the many educators in our school district who are not limited by the state’s “requirements” for an elementary education. Instead, he uses those requirements as a jumping-off point.

Beyond teaching several music classes each day, Casanas has also started a student rock band, a world drumming ensemble, a show chorus and even a staff rock band.

His job does not come without frustrations, and at the crux of the frustrations is funding. A lack of funding can cause job insecurity for many teachers – especially teachers of the arts.

Some years, Casanas was an itinerate teacher who worked three days at Lanier and then traveled to other schools to teach a class here and there. That was tough, he recalls. Being an itinerate teacher doesn’t allow for the strong bonds that help kids thrive.

Student rock band

There’s also so much more he could do in the classroom with more funding.

“If someone gave me money right now, I’d love to buy more technology,” he says. “I think that’s a great way to be more culturally responsive to kids. I’d buy more iPads to download music and allow the kids to create something with just the tip of their fingers. Most of the music they do is done digitally, and we don’t offer them a lot of avenues to do that in school.”

Funding is tough to come by. Sometimes the Parent Teacher Association will step in with some extra money. However, many times, teachers are left to find and write grants to get additional funds.

That’s a lot of additional work, but for Casanas, it’s worth it.

He will do whatever is necessary to meet his students’ needs and help boost their self-esteem – which is a powerful advantage of the arts.

“Music education does wonders for social-emotional learning,” Casanas says. “With music ensembles, there is so much collaboration and so many interpersonal skills. Kids develop so much empathy because they play together and learn to be sensitive to others around them. Music builds a stronger community and builds those social bonds.”

And for many kids, it helps them find their genius—and through that, their place in the world.

Visit for more information about how the millage would preserve art, music and physical education by providing a full-time teacher in every elementary school and help recruit and retain highly qualified teachers. 

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Photos provided by Hillsborough County Public Schools | Originally published in August 2022 of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.