Vanessa’s Story


Why Music Matters to Me:

When I started my seventh grade year at Toyon Middle School I was so excited to try out for the Advanced Choir. My older cousin was in it and I knew they were able to go on some interesting trips just by singing their way there. I remember walking into the music room to see Ms. Hjelmervik sitting there with a pen and paper. As I sang, my nerves subsided and I realized that I could actually make it. I was so excited when I got the call that I was accepted into the Advanced Choir as I entered the seventh grade. That year we traveled to some local places and did many great performances.

When eighth grade came around, we tried out for the National Children’s Choir and if we made it we would sing at Carnegie Hall in New York City! Coming from a small town, we were over joyed that we could have the opportunity to go to the East Coast and meet some incredible people. Shortly after we were accepted into the National Children’s Choir something that no one thought would ever happen, happened. Two planes hit the World Trade Centers and thousands of people lost their lives. I remember sitting in front of the television not really knowing what those buildings were, but knowing that it was in New York and I would be going there in March. As a choir we almost didn’t go because the thought of getting on a plane to fly there scared a lot of people in our little town. We had a vote and decided we would still be going. In March, we traveled to the big city of NYC! It was amazing; the lights, the people, and the fast pace environment. But the best thing was we were able to go to Ground Zero and see the rubble of the World Trade Centers. Looking back now I was able to see history and touch the ground to where millions of lives were grieving over. That to me was the best history lesson I could ever ask for. At that moment my choir teacher told us we would be singing the National Anthem at Ground Zero. As we sang, a man in a wheel chair stood up and put his hand on his heart and in that moment while the city of New York surrounded the rubble of the lost towers, everyone seemed to stop and take a moment to realize what our country had lost through listening to our song. Being so young I knew that we were able to make a difference that day.

I graduated in 2006 from Calaveras High School and was so excited to start my life outside of the little town I grew up in. After high school I went on to Junior College in Sacramento and once I found that wasn’t for me I followed my dream to live in San Diego, CA. I then moved to the beautiful city and continued my education. I was able to go to Junior College for two years then transferred to the University of California Santa Cruz, and I majored in History. While I was at UCSC I joined a non-profit organization called Eye To Eye, which helps students with learning disabilities. I am now one of their speakers and have the chance to travel around the country talking about students with learning disabilities. This helped me choose the path of wanting to be a Special Education Teacher. I am proud to say that I just start Graduate school at the University of San Diego where I will be earning my Masters and Teaching Credential in Special Education.

I feel that growing up in the Calaveras School District helped me grow as a person. I was able to experience so much through music at Toyon and even though it was such a small town and sort of off the radar, it’s nice to tell people where I came from. When I heard that music programs were in danger of getting cut, I thought of all the good memories I had there and how the next generation of children won’t be able to experience that. I felt sad. What will Middle School students have to look forward to? How will young students be able to express themselves if not through music? What about the young students who have a learning disability like myself?

I cannot offer money considering I am living off loans at the moment, but I hope that my story can make a difference. Calaveras is too small with nothing to do that I feel like the crime rate will increase and the students will not be given the opportunity to succeed in other things besides schoolwork. I hope money can be raised and that someday I’ll have the chance to go see the choir perform again.


Vanessa Montgomery

CHS Alumni

Class of 2006



  1. Kenneth Gowder | October 1, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Great story Vanessa, I can remember you from calaveras and love positive things so I read this. I too believe in the choir program and saw a lot of good friends have a lot if fun in it although I was not a part I always like to see it succeed!

  2. Joanne Holmquist | October 2, 2014 at 8:45 am

    Loved reading this Vanessa! Going to New York that year was absolutely incredible and we did see history. It’s funny how looking back, we had no clue the magnitude of what had taken place, but we felt the pain of the city when there. I remember that man in the wheelchair….we caught it on video. It was one of the most powerful moments in my entire life. Thank you for sharing your story and how that trip and the music program has impacted your life in such a big way. I’m with you 100%!


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