For those about to rock…
Dean Marino, who teaches Rock N’ Roll to his students in the West Port Rock Pack, poses for a photo in his classroom at West Port High School in Ocala, Fla. on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. Marino recently received the Exemplary Award from the Florida Music Educators Association. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.
West Port teacher encourages rocking out at school
Editor’s note: Rachel Maze’s name was incorrectly spelled in a previous version of this story.
West Port High School music teacher Dean Marino’s sixth-period class is a little unorthodox. The blaring guitars and thudding bass coming out of Marino’s classroom are courtesy of his rock band class.
“When I heard that there was a rock band elective, I pictured something kind of like ‘School of Rock,’ but Jack Black is no Dean Marino” former student and new West Port teacher Rachel Mays said.
Marino might not be in a major Hollywood blockbuster, but his “School of Rock” is garnering statewide attention. His “ROCK PACK” program Florida Music Educators Association for the Exemplary Program Award for the 2020-21 school year.
“When you first hear, oh, we have a rock band class, you wonder ‘What are they doing at that school?’” West Port principal Ginger Cruze said. “But it is amazing what he has done over the years.”
Marino’s first experience with music growing up was when he would go to church in New York. The church had an active music department, and he often wanted to go just for the music. Piano lessons soon followed.
As he got older, he knew that he wanted to be a professional musician and started as a music major at the College of Central Florida after he graduated from Lake Weir High. After a year, he auditioned for a traveling music group called The Young Americans and stayed with them for a couple of years.
Marino later attended the Grove School of Music and then did work scoring movies, trailers and commercials. He retired at the age of 40 and moved back to Ocala. Marino said that, 22 years ago, he got a job with the school system on a whim.
He first worked as an elementary school teacher before arriving at West Port. He noticed that, despite the school’s focus on the fine arts, there were students whose interests didn’t fit in with what the school was offering.
“I immediately sensed, because based on my background I could see, you know, talking to kids, there were a lot of kids that, you know, with all the great things we have here, they connected with something different,” Marino said. “So I actually kind of started it before I started it. We’d have kids bring their guitars to class, we would do some projects in class that were kind of rock band-ish projects that first year.”
Marino had the go-ahead to create his own class that was originally called “music ensemble,” and it was soon overflowing with requests to join.
His favorite part of the year is the annual concert that is entirely made up of original music. Marino will guide his students through the process, but it’s up to them to put the pieces together. He says that students will create 18 to 20 songs for the concert every year.
“It’s just so, so much their voice, I just can’t describe it,” Marino said. “You have to see it.”
The class is rewarding for both Marino and the class itself as he watches his students’ bands come together as a group and grow more confident.
“Everybody seems to get uplifted, like their energy and their confidence,” Marino said. “And that’s very evident with certain students, who come in and you know that they’re scared to death to be there but they want to be there so badly. And then they get in a band, and that actually scares them more because then they have to interact with people they don’t know. But then all of a sudden it becomes their team.
“The thing about rock band is that it’s the interpersonal interaction that they have to deal with and get through to get to their product, and they do that. I’m always so impressed by them.”
For students like Mays, the program has given students a voice that they didn’t know they had and an escape from the hectic life of a high school student.
“The rock band program was both a safe place and a creative outlet for me for four years,” Mays said. “Looking back, my high school experience would have been vastly different without rock band.”