ORLANDO, Fla. – The Jones High School band has a storied history. They once played at a World’s Fair and two U.S. bicentennial celebrations. According to the school’s website, “As integration of the schools began, the Jones band broke boundaries by performing in notably segregated communities to be received with respect.”
But we found, despite its celebrated history, funding has been a consistent challenge for the school’s extracurricular programs.
The “Marching Tiger Band” is in need of support.
Over the last few years uniforms and instruments have been damaged or gone missing, limiting student participation.
But one alumnus is getting results for the school — and the community he loves.
Bishop Allen Wiggins of The Hope Church in the Washington Shores neighborhood of Orlando is promoting a jazz concert Friday, Oct. 20, 2023, featuring Grammy and Stellar award-winning saxophonist Kirk Whalum. All proceeds will be used to support the school.
“I had the privilege of playing in the band, 1981 through 1984,” Wiggins remembered. “My final year there I was elected as Mr. Jones High School. So I have a real love for the school, the band and what it represents. It makes a difference in the community.”
Naomi Joy Nelson is in her first year as Director Of Bands at Jones. She too is a graduate. Nelson remembers being part of a marching band that included at least 200 players.
This school year about 85 students are able to participate because of a lack of instruments.
Nelson is tasked with elevating the storied program.
“When I came back to teach, I took a look at the inventory that was here and I was able to assess that we’re about 20 years behind where we should be,” Nelson said. “Twenty years behind in terms of when I was a student here, the drum majors are still wearing the same uniform that I wore. The same design, the same style.”
Nelson hopes to update the uniforms and invest in a long list of instruments. “We need just about everything,” Nelson said.
OCPS funds each school based on their enrollment. Jones High School is the smallest high school in the district with roughly 1,600 students.
For comparison, Lake Nona, one of the largest high schools, has 4,543 students.
School administrators are responsible for distributing those funds across all the programs the school offers.
It’s common for programs to supplement with fundraisers and donations.
“I don’t know how the district supports the program,” Wiggins said. “I just know we as a ministry and church are here to transform the community and we’re saying this is our part to make a difference.”
Wiggins said his decision to hold the benefit concert became personal when he heard a story about one of the students.
“When I heard about one of the kids not having the dollars to rent an instrument, and I heard about one of the kids even being homeless, I said that our church should step up and make a difference,” Wiggins said. “That’s why we committed that the net proceeds from this concert would benefit the school. It was that heart-wrenching story that made a difference to move us towards stepping up to another level.”
Wiggins and The Hope Church have committed to donating at least $10,000 to the program.
“Most people in the greater Washington Shores area have a connection to Jones High School, support it, applaud it, and really look to Jones as a leader in this area,” Wiggins said, adding that he’s hoping the community comes out to support the school.
Nelson says despite the challenges, the Jones High School Band will continue to perform to their standard.
“It’s never not been great. That’s the beauty of being Jones High School. The name resonates with, and is synonymous with, that level of excellence.”