WILMINGTON — On Friday, Oct. 25, the Wilmington High School band played its last high school football game of the season, led by band teacher Barbara Mette in the last game of her career. To celebrate, Mette’s adopted daughter and WHS alumnus Julie Kelley invited band alumni from the past 45 years to surprise her at the game.
Mette has been teaching middle and high school band in Wilmington for the past 45 years. She was hired for her first and only teaching position back in 1974 and is finishing her career at the end of this school year.
While she could’ve retired years ago, Mette has kept teaching in Wilmington because she loves what she does.
“It’s a huge job, but she just loves it,” Kelley said.
Mette has taught hundreds of students from middle school band, jazz band, marching band, concert band, and the high school band. She’s led Band Camp and Disney World trips every year. She organized after-school practices, parades, ceremonies, and concerts for each band. She also helps to organize other performing arts budgets.
Her students say that Mette creates a culture of respect and responsibility with each one of them, from 11-year olds to 18-year olds.
“She treats the students with respect and the students respect her back,” Kelley added.
Kelley graduated from Wilmington High School in 1987 — and she had her adoptive mother as her band teacher. She shared that Mette wants to grow her students into good people.
Meghan Ryan, an alumnus from the class of 2010, mentioned that Mette really emphasized to her students the importance of building bridges and being a good part of the community of Wilmington.
First being a student and now a fellow teacher alongside Mette, WHS Drama Director Mike Semonelli uses what he learned from his band teacher with his students today. Semonelli graduated from WHS in 2013 and got his bachelor’s in Theater at Merrimack College.
“Even from sixth grade, she’s always talked to her students as if they’re adults — not as equals, but treated with the same level of respect that she would treat any adult,” he said.
What he explained that Mette is doing above all else is giving her students the chance to succeed.
Mette holds all of her students to expectations that have consequences when unmet. This is shown in how she grades according to whether her students are present in class and practicing at home; she gives students different leadership positions like section leader or student officer; and she won’t take any nonsense or irresponsibility.
Ryan said that one of her favorite memories of her time in band was when she was a quarter master, wherein she was part of a team fitting students with the right size uniform for any event. She valued being given responsibilities and had fun doing it.
At the same time, Mette is creating a safe space where her students can express themselves and share personal things with an adult who actually cares.
“While I was being treated with adult expectations, there was the idea that I could still be a kid here without feeling overwhelmed or like I had to put on a fake adult face,” Semonelli continued.
Band class was a space where he felt comfortable enough to both ask for advice and play small pranks on his band teacher.
Both alumni said that giving up a Friday night to be there for Mette was more than worth it.
“I appreciate her as a former teacher and as a colleague and now as a friend. I hope one day to be at least half the teacher that she has been for her whole career,” Semonelli said.
Certainly one for surprises, he was happy to participate and help bring in other alumni for Mette’s surprise. He aimed to reach the younger alumni and current students, who he’d also know from teaching drama at WHS for the past five years.
To reach out to 45 years’ worth of band students, Kelley mostly posted on Facebook and reached out to some of her old high school band friends. With the help of other alumni and students and people in town sharing, lots of WHS band alumni showed up on Friday night for the football game to show their band pride.
Ryan shared that Mette was completely gracious receiving everyone’s surprise visits.
“She wasn’t looking for any recognition on this or any other occasion,” Ryan said. “She was really touched by how many people came out and the alumni’s appreciation of her and her leadership throughout the years.”
Remembering how much hard work and how many long hours Mette gave up as her teacher, it was Ryan’s and many other alumni’s treat to surprise their favorite band teacher at the football game.
Kelley described the surprise as a slow but steady influx of alumni, although she couldn’t number how many people actually were there to surprise Mette.
“About halfway through, she realized that something was up. People just kept coming,” she said.
Some alumni who couldn’t make it to the surprise still shared their appreciation by visiting earlier in the school day.