Music specialist Ali Jun transforms students into successful musicians—even children who have never before touched an instrument. Each week, Jun sees every student at Nevada’s Dr. Beverly S. Mathis Elementary School, a K-5 school in Las Vegas. She instills fundamental skills like rhythm, musical notation and ear-training, integrating academic learning wherever possible. Units on bucket drumming teach counting and rhythmic patterns, and students practice notating what they hear on the white board as Jun plays melodies on the piano. She raised funds from outside donors to buy ukuleles, drums and sticks, guitars and recorders. Older students work toward being able to identify all the woodwind instruments by both sight and sound. Throughout the pandemic, students engaged with Jun both virtually and in person, participating enthusiastically and joyfully in her innovative lessons. Thanks to Jun’s support, hundreds of students tackle their fears each year to audition for solos in her schoolwide musicals and choir performances.
In addition to instrument ensembles and theatrical productions, Jun leads the Mathis Maestros, the school’s honor choir, and its junior counterpart, the Mini Maestros. Students have performed on local television news, at the famous Ethel M. chocolate factory, and in the PBS Holiday Showcase. When the choir sang in the annual parade marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jun interviewed Dr. Beverly Mathis—the school’s namesake and a 2000 Milken Educator—and built the program around her favorite songs. Jun arranges field trips to the Smith Center for professional performances of the Las Vegas Philharmonic, knowing that learning to be an enthusiastic audience member is part of developing a lifelong love of music.
Jun brings a positive outlook to every interaction with students, colleagues and families. She goes to great lengths to involve families in her efforts to showcase their children’s accomplishments to the community. When former pupils come to visit, Jun gladly helps them with magnet school auditions and college applications. During COVID school closures, she gathered supplies to distribute to school families, always reminding students to sing and dance at home. Since Mathis opened in 2017, Jun has been a fundamental part of the culture. She penned the original anthem every student knows by heart: “We are the Mustangs, the Mighty Mathis Mustangs, galloping to the future ahead!”
Jun earned a bachelor’s (2003) and master’s (2004) degrees in music education from Syracuse University.
Press release: A Teacher Appreciation Day Surprise That Brings Music to Her Ears
"When I see my students achieve, it makes me so excited for them—and I always tell them, 'Don't forget me when you're famous!'..." (read more)