Superintendent’s Spotlight: Alexia Balk


Superintendent’s Spotlight: Alexia Balk

March 24, 2023

Alexia Balk doesn’t let her hearing loss slow her down, and it’s never caused her to shy away from a challenge. She takes them on as they come, and perseveres and flourishes time after time. This year, the outgoing and enthusiastic fourth-grader decided to explore her love of music, and took on the challenge of learning clarinet as part of the Sanfordville Elementary School band.

“It’s a Squidward kind of instrument,” said Alexia with a smile and a laugh about her Spongebob-influenced choice. “And I really wanted to be like Squidward!”

A student’s first year in band can be… well… a lot. When upwards of 70 new musicians gather in a room, things can get overwhelming for anyone, let alone someone just starting out. Nevertheless, with clarinet in hand and Squidward in mind, Alexia dove right in!

“Alexia came to the music program as a beginner, not knowing how to play, and has really quickly risen to be able to play her clarinet, read music, and fit in with the band,” said band teacher Ryan Muehlbauer. “She works super hard!”

Alexia has loved music from an early age, and her mom, Shari Lynn Balk, said her face would always light up when they would play it for her, especially classical. Her Uncle Rick introduced Alexia to symphonies with a trip to see a production of The Nutcracker. The outing has proven to be a catalyzing moment.

“From there, her love of music and ballet just grew,” said Ms. Balk. “She would tell people her favorite composer is Tchaikovsky and she joined ballet, which she takes at the New York Performing Arts Center in Washingtonville.”

After deciding to join band, Alexia and her mom got a lesson from Mr. Muehlbauer during parent/teacher conferences about how to hold the clarinet and assemble its reed. That night, she began taking her clarinet home every day to work on it.

“[When I first started band] I was a little scared, but not once I got used to it,” Alexia said. “Now, I feel really happy every time we practice!”

Mr. Muehlbauer said that while other students helped Alexia at first, it’s become the other way around now, thanks to the effort Alexia has invested.

“She got a little bit better. And then she got a little bit better, and a little bit better still,” said a proud Mr. Muehlbauer. “Before long, we saw her confidence come out, and because she works so hard and spends so much time on her playing, when other students are struggling now, Alexia has become the helper. It’s so great to see her take on that leadership role!”

Alexia’s teacher, Carrie Ann Greiner, has also seen that confidence and peer mentorship shine through firsthand in the classroom, too, noting her outstanding work ethic and eagerness to learn and help.

“We’ve had lots of conversations about how much Alexia has grown and how independent she has become,” said Ms. Greiner. “She’s very compassionate. She’s always the one in class who feels for somebody else and wants to help other people. That just comes real natural for her.”

Ms. Balk added, “She is a firm believer in being kind to everyone, and loves everyone she meets. She has an army of best friends!”

Dara Ellen Breitkopf, a Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing with Orange Ulster BOCES, shared that she has had the pleasure of working with Alexia for many years.

“Alexia is responsible, kind, smart, and a true leader,” said Ms. Breitkopf. “She is a perfect example of how students with hearing loss can excel and achieve just as much success as their hearing peers. I am so incredibly proud of her!”

There is a saying painted on the Sanfordville band room wall: Practice equals confidence.

“And that’s exactly what we are seeing with Alexia,” said Mr. Muehlbauer. “She has just really blossomed.”

Ms. Balk could not agree more, and said that being in band has helped Alexia build her confidence exponentially this year.

“Her determination to read music, count beats, and learn her instrument has improved her overall focus in school. This has been her best year of elementary school,” she beamed. “Every day, Alexia shows us a new way of living and loving life to the fullest. She is my biggest inspiration.”


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