In the short time he's been with them, Maple Elementary School music teacher Ray Washington has changed his students’ lives by keeping them in line.
His pint-sized drumline of fourth and fifth graders called the Marching Lions in Cambridge, Maryland, have exceeded expectations on stage, grabbing the attention of ABC News and earning Washington the first "Teacher Who Makes A Difference" award from ABC affiliate WMDT. His own students nominated him for the honor.
“It means a lot,” Washington, 32, told ABC News of their success. “I know that when they get older they can say, ‘I was on ‘Good Morning America.’ No one in this area can really say that. No one. For me, to be able to give that to them, that’s major.”
Maple Elementary holds a special place in Washington's heart. It’s where he attended school as a child and first learned to play drums, a talent he continued to hone throughout his time at Morgan State University in Baltimore. Now, his students will be performing at his alma mater this Saturday.
“I am very proud. I can’t wait. It’s still unbelievable because I’m trying to raise the money at the last minute for buses,” he said. “I run practice just like I did in college. I run it like college as far as the respect and the no talking -- I expect that from them.”
Washington said when he started substitute teaching at the school two years ago, he thought it would be a temporary position and that he would soon “move on to something else.”
“But I started to build a connection with the kids and when the opportunity came to teach music, I hopped on it,” he said. “Then we started to build the marching band. We started with the drumline, and then started with getting uniforms and everything, and it led to what it is now. This year, everything is all together and we’re just trying to blow everything out the water.”
Fifth grader Hallmark Pinanzu is the drum major for the marching band. He said it “means a lot” for him to have earned that position.
“It’s a really good experience,” Pinanzu said on “GMA” today. “It was really good to earn that spot and I’m glad for the whole band for being here.”
Washington said the school district and all of his students’ parents are incredibly supportive of fostering the kids' newfound talent.
“”I’m not just a band teacher. I’m a counselor, a father, a friend.
“Some of them have some really rough home lives, and this is their outlet. This is what they look forward to,” said Washington. “I’m not just a band teacher. I’m a counselor, a father, a friend. It takes so much more to get through to them. The whole school system is so supportive of it.”
Washington said he can’t wait to see what the future holds for his students and that he is doing everything in his power to help them succeed.
“They know they have to keep up good behavior and good grades to stay in band,” he said. “I’m constantly walking through the school to monitor my band kids to make sure they’ve holding up a certain standard.”