Shining Example

At Freedom High School, Mr. Won specializes in ‘lightbulb moments.’



Norma Lopez Molina

It’s mid-afternoon at Freedom High School and in the choral suite, a student is beginning her singing lesson. She’s nervous because although she has a powerful voice, she doesn’t realize it. So she wavers on the high notes, frowning with concentration.


Her teacher, Mr. Won, sits beh

ind the piano. He has picked up on the fact that, despite his compliments and encouragement, she still has her doubts. So he pulls out his iPhone and records her, then plays it back over a classroom speaker.
“That’s you singing,” Mr. Won says to her. “Yes! I’m trying to tell you, that’s good! You sound great! You want to hear that again, so you can believe it?”


A shy smile tells him that she has realized her strength. It’s what Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, affectionately known as Mr. Won, likes to call a “lightbulb moment.’’


There have been many such moments in the five years since Mr. Won started teaching chorus at the south Orange County high school. Just ask his principal, Harold Border, who calls the 30-year-old teacher a “game changer.’’ Or his choral students, who strive to move up the ranks from Beginning Chorus to Varsity and onto the school’s showcase group, the Patriot Singers.


Others outside the school have taken notice. Mr. Won was named Orange County Teacher of the Year for 2013, and also is the 2013 recipient of the Macy’s Magic of Teaching Award.
Exuberant and charismatic, the instructor is quick to encourage his students and give them frequent personalized attention. Inspirational banners hang on the walls of the choral room: “Excellence is never an accident” and “We don’t perform to impress, we sing to inspire.”


One class in particular, Class Voice, sets both Mr. Won and Freedom High apart among high school choral music programs. Mr. Won calls Class Voice “the hybrid college conservatory model,” where students receive individual voice lessons. He works with a professional accompanist to deliver training in both technique and performance.  The choral classes are always filled to capacity. Some students take more than one class during the school day, and others are enrolled in the Patriot Singers class, which meets as an eighth period, after school. On Friday nights, Mr. Won provides an opportunity for students to socialize, eat pizza and watch an opera movie.


Joshua Volpert, a junior who participates in both Varsity and Patriot Singers, enjoys the sense of family Mr. Won instills in his singing ensembles. “He creates a real atmosphere for learning,’’ Volpert says. “Within a family, that’s where you can learn the most.


“He’s figured out a way to make us all work for a common goal,’’ Volpert continues. “Most years, you don’t know half the other people in the choir, but Mr. Won manages to get us to work together, and he’s changed the way I think about dedication and hard work.”

Perhaps that’s because Mr. Won is a hard worker himself. He’s generally on campus at 7 a.m., then proceeds to work a 12-hour day. But the payoff is watching those lightbulbs come on—and watching students grow in their love of singing.


“We understand that not everybody, when they enter the classroom, is 100 percent sold on music,’’ he says. “But we’re hoping they are by the end of the year.

“And it usually happens that way.” 

Edit Module
Want to read the whole issue? Download and read this issue and others on Magzter.

Add your comment:
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags

Guides & Resources

Orlando's Top Dentists of 2017

Our annual list featuring 224 of the area's finest dental professionals.

Guide to Private Schools 2017

Our searchable annual database will help you chart an educational course for your family.

2016 Premier Doctors

Our annual list of over 500 doctors.

Best Doctors 2016

The Annual List of the Best Doctors in Orlando.

Top Doctors 2016

The Annual List of the Top Doctors in Orlando.

Vacation Planner

Your next getaway is only a click away. Search our database for a great vacation experience.

2016 Premier Veterinarians

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

MoreRecent Blog Posts

3 Reasons Not to Miss the Publix Savannah Women’s Half Marathon and 5K

This springtime race leads runners 13.1 miles through one of the nation’s most beautiful cities.

9 Central Florida Eco Tours

Central Florida shines with unparalleled nature-based adventures.

Houseplants for a Cleaner Home

These ten plants create a greener, cleaner home.

Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz Premieres Pietà

Presented by the Cornell Fine Arts Museum on March 21st, Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz will create the durational performance "Pietà" from 6–7:30 p.m. in the Knowles Chapel at Rollins College.

Weekend Happenings Mar 17 to 19

Know what's happening in and around Orlando for the weekend.
Edit Module