Who among us has not dreamed of just chucking our well-worn routines of jobs, people and places, and heading over the horizon to see what’s there?
One of DeLand’s residents is about to do just that — doing what most of us only dream of: setting off to see what the world might offer her.
Melinda Fradley is well-known in DeLand for her 25 years leading three DeLand elementary schools’ music programs and, for the past 12 years, teaching DeLand High School’s chorus groups.
Fradley has fully adopted DeLand as her hometown, after moving here following high school in Virginia. She is a two-time Stetson University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s in educational leadership. Her great-great-grandfather graduated from Stetson in 1911.
“I think I’ve taught about 5,000 kids in my classes,” Fradley said. “As the 2014 DHS Teacher of the Year, I got the honor of reading the names of the graduating seniors at commencement. I loved discovering there were three graduates who had me as their music teacher for 10 of their 13 years in our schools. That was the maximum possible, since I didn’t teach in middle school.”
How does such a well-known local icon just leave it all to go exploring?
“It is mostly about the timing,” Fradley explained. “Two years ago, I was part of the Festival Singers of Florida, a professional choral group which makes an annual singing trip overseas. That year, we went to China. As a result, the Chinese asked last year if our director could recommend someone to come back to China for three months and teach both American music and our teaching methods to Chinese teachers.”
Fradley was offered a three-month assignment in Beijing, with all expenses paid.
“I’d just sold my too-big house, my two sons are in college and taken care of, so I said ‘Yes!’” Fradley said — despite only knowing two words of Chinese.
“Well, it will be at an international school, so most students will speak English, and they have promised me a translator when I have visiting music educators in my classes, so that part should be OK,” she said.
What comes after this Chinese teaching trip is where Fradley’s adventure might capture the imagination. What does she plan to do after her three-month stint in Beijing?
“I don’t really want to have a plan for what comes next,” she said. “I want to be free to explore any opportunities which might come my way, anywhere.”
Fradley said over her years in DeLand, she’d become “a sort of big fish in a small DeLand pond.”
“So, this is kind of my kick in the butt to shake up my life, I guess,” she said.
Fradley is looking forward to a deliberately unplanned future.
How many of us would be so brave, at 48 years old, respected and known by literally thousands of students as chorus artistic director at DeLand High School, to just pack a couple of suitcases and go exploring?
The response to Fradley’s decision to go on this walkabout sabbatical starting in China, which may or may not be her hoped-for springboard to a new life, has warmed her heart.
“In December, I had a farewell concert, and over 150 former singers of mine came,” she said. “Some flew in long distances. It was pretty amazing for me!”
When Fradley started teaching at the high school, she had only 50 students her first year.
By the end of her third year, she was working with 250 students. In addition, she counts about 900 students per year during her time in three successive elementary schools.
Fradley thinks one of her successes as a teacher stems from attitude.
“I never made it about me. I told all my students, my back is to the audience. They want to hear you,” she said. “My feeling is that if the audience is looking at me, and not at my singers, then I am not doing my job right.”
She said she tries to hold her students to high standards, but also believes in helping them “go forth and conquer the world.”
“Maybe my doing this traveling will help as a role model for the hope we have for our students,” Fradley said.
How has she managed to do all the hundreds of chores, large and small, it takes to put a life on hold?
“Well, I’ve become a good friend of Goodwill!” Fradley said.
She’s also shared furnishings with her mother, who also lives locally, and her sons.
Fradley’s last day teaching at DeLand High will be April 5.
Two days later, she will fly out of Boston, over the North Pole, to China and the beginning of her new life — to discover whatever that will be.