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Teacher of the Week

On a daily basis, I am blown away by the work of educators the world over. Not only am I lucky enough to have crossed paths with inspirational teachers throughout my life but many of you share your stories of incredible people you’ve had the joy of encountering – people who are changing the world one student at a time. Every Thursday, I will share a new “Teacher of the Week” and invite you to submit your nominations below.

This Week's Teacher is Richard Medrano (U.S.A.)

Richard Medrano (U.S.A.)

With his open heart and musicality, Rich has given back to the community. He conducts with the City of Angels Community Choirs in Granada Hills, CA. This community choir includes the Master Chorale, as well as Children’s Choir. His empathy and open arms invite you to join not only a group of singers, but a family – a humble family that creates wonderful music for the community. Rich has given the choir the opportunity to go Christmas caroling at a local hospital each year in December. He has also dedicated a concert for the children and has raised money for children’s scholarships. Rich has dedicated engraved hand bells of those who lost their lives in Sandy Hook.

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Richard.

Thank you April for the nomination.

All Honorees

Sheena Graham

Sheena Graham

Sheena is an outstanding choral educator, who’s breathed new life and meaning to students in Bridgeport CT’s inner city high school. After years of budget cuts, music is back: “On Friday mornings, students are serenaded by musical performances as they cue up to go through metal detectors. As people are coming in, security guards are bopping to the music as they check bags.” Sheena has just been award Connecticut Teacher of the Year for 2019.

Thank you, Sheena, for changing the world one student at a time.

Mrs. Ruby Robertson-Knox (U.S.A.)

Mrs. Ruby Robertson-Knox (U.S.A.)

Mrs. Ruby Robertson-Knox, Music Director at Oak Knoll School, has been a part of the music world from her childhood, later studying at Baylor U, and teaching for 40+ years. She fosters a special choral community of singers from grades 7-12, a drama troop, full musical, masses, and two chamber choirs. Service is also one of the biggest aspects of OKS and Ms. Knox’s philosophy. Ms. Knox teaches us to be grateful for our school, one another, and music. She is passionate for the arts and knows the powers of choral music to heal and make community. Music brings her happiness and joy, thus bringing it to students. She aims to better us and implores students, who she calls her children, to be passionate about their dreams. Ms. Knox’s talents are countless: a stunning singer, pianist, and conductor who conducts from the piano bench, never missing a cue while playing beautifully. She is there for all of us. Her light is felt by all. “Ruby” is truly a valuable gem and shining star.

Thank you Ruby, for changing the world one student at a time.

Janwin Overstreet-Goode (U.S.A.)

Janwin Overstreet-Goode (U.S.A.)

I met Janwin at TMEA earlier this year and was blown away by the connection that she had with so many former-students across the time we spent together. It’s not a surprise that she’s been honored with the FISD “Making a Difference” Award and the Outstanding Music Educator Award from the Houston Symphony Orchestra.

Janwin – thank you for changing the world, one student at a time.

Dr. Robert Spence (U.S.A.)

Dr. Robert Spence (U.S.A.)

Dr. Spence is an associate professor of music at Elizabethtown College, as well as the director of instrumental studies. He conducts the Symphonic Band and the College-Community Orchestra. In 2017, he was awarded the Kreider Teaching Prize, which is given annually to an outstanding educator at the college. I had Dr. Spence in class during every semester of my college career. He is the prime example of a deeply caring and passionate educator. During his classes, his manner of speaking creates the feeling that he is speaking to each student individually, rather than addressing the group as a whole. He can often be found in his office, essentially giving private lessons to students from his instrumental methods classes. And to top it off, his dry humor is unmatched. Perhaps my favorite memory is his recent comment on my Facebook post, informing friends and family that I accepted a full-time teaching job: “Thank you for your contributions to my future Social Security checks…”

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Robert.

Thank you Abby for the nomination.

Sandra Chandler (U.S.A.)

Sandra Chandler (U.S.A.)

I would love to recommend Ms. Sandra Chandler, choral teacher and director at Alexander High School, Douglasville, Georgia for this honor. She is a splendid teacher, award winning in her district, and greatly loved by her students. She is a prime example of what ACDA stands for.

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Sandra.

Thank you Tim Sharp, Executive Director of ACDA, for the nomination.

Dr. Charissa Chiaravalloti (U.S.A.)

Dr. Charissa Chiaravalloti (U.S.A.)

Dr. Chiaravalloti is the Director of Choral Activities at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. Dr. C, as we call her, is one of those teachers that changes your life. She’s the standard by which you hold all other teachers, even though you know you’re never going to have a director quite like her again. She loves and cherishes music, but she loves and values her students even more. Dr. C supports each and every one of her students, and helps us to grow not only as musicians, but as confident, competent human beings. No teacher has ever changed my life quite the way Dr. C has.

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Charissa.

Thank you Allie for the nomination.

Gregg Breinberg (U.S.A.)

Gregg Breinberg (U.S.A.)

It was my honor to meet and work with Gregg Breinberg “Mr. B” and the incredible choir, PS22, (from Public School 22, Graniteville, Staten Island, New York) in 2000. Their continued success must surely come from Gregg’s vision, integrity, passion and dedication to young people and music. Each year he auditions children from 10 years old to join PS22 from the school’s wide cross-section of ethnic groups and socio-economic levels, encouraging them to sing as one and express themselves through music. The emotion is palpable, both listening to them and watching them. Mr. B and PS22 have had truly massive success on YouTube, appeared at the Oscars, the White House, on the Oprah Winfrey Show and with Katy Perry and more. Crucially, this team of engaging super-talented young people rehearse twice a week in term-time and sing at school and local events. Mr. B, you are an incredible force for good in an area that continues to face huge challenges.

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Gregg.

George Hattingh Jr (South Africa)

George Hattingh Jr (South Africa)

George Hattingh Jr has been a big part in making the dreams of thousands of aspiring sound engineers, including myself, come to life. He is a lecturer and a director at the Academy of Sound Engineering in Auckland Park, South Africa. He is a mentor to me and one of my biggest role models.

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you George.

Thank you Ethan for the nomination.

Mr. Chris Wing (U.S.A.)

Mr. Chris Wing (U.S.A.)

As the band director and head of the music department at Greenfield-Central High School, Mr. Wing built a phenomenal marching band and a spectacular concert band program from the ground up. Starting with a horn line that totaled fewer members than the current woodwind section, he pushed through adversity, giving every member the knowledge they needed to thrive, and continues to strive, not for trophies or medals, but for improvement and exceptional performance individually and as a group. He will be the first to admit that if there are points available, he wants them all. However, his desire for the Greenfield-Central Cougar Pride Marching Band to be the best it possibly can overrides his competitive nature, and he implores us to focus on how we improved over how we placed.

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Chris.

Thank you Elysabeth for the nomination.

Dr. Angela Broeker (U.S.A.)

Dr. Angela Broeker (U.S.A.)

Dr. Broeker is the most loving and generous human being and an incredible Choral music educator. She teaches with such kindness, empathy and grace and is an inspiration to all of the students she comes into contact with. After two weeks of graduate conducting this summer, she gently reminded our class “You are enough. As you already are, you are enough.” Her belief in each of her students is so encouraging…and she is a brilliant musician to boot!

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Angela.

Thank you Coleen for the nomination.

Dr. Cara Tasher (U.S.A.)

Dr. Cara Tasher (U.S.A.)

Dr. Cara Tasher, the brilliant Director of Choral Studies at the University of North Florida, has a tradition with her choir called “hot seat.” (That’s Dr. Tasher in the photo, second from left). She and her singers sit in a large circle surrounding a single empty chair. One by one a student comes to the center of the circle, sits down, and closes their eyes. As soon as they sit the people surrounding them gently bombard them with positive adjectives about their character. “Funny.” “Gracious.” “Generous.” “Confident.” “Beautiful.”

The person in the center can’t go anywhere – they must sit and listen to their friends and colleagues sending wave after wave of positive, specific reinforcement describing who they are and what they mean to the tribe. The overall effect was gorgeous, uplifting and deeply human, and as I tearfully told them afterwards in the middle of a big group hug, “This is the most choir thing EVER.”

Changing the world one student at a time – thank you Cara.

Your Nominations

Michelle Shmuel

It is with great honor that I write to you in support of Michelle Shmuel as an EW “Teacher Of The Week”. While Michelle is clearly an outstanding professional, mentor, musician and teacher, I believe she should be viewed foremost as an outstanding leader. After years of setting the standard as a “young” teacher, Michelle has now transitioned to a “seasoned veteran” who leads by example on a daily basis for not only her students but co-workers as well. Michelle’s unwavering approach to her daily tasks as an educator is a beacon of professionalism for all to see. She truly displays the philosophy that she is teaching young adults how to be better HUMAN BEINGS through singing, as opposed to simply becoming a good musician. She runs three choirs, as well as numerous smaller chamber groups with over 200 students enrolled. It does not matter what level of performer you are, if you are willing to put the work in, she is willing to give her time to teach you. Truly Inspirational!

Mr. Andrew Robinson

Our school has never seen a more dedicated, passionate teacher than Mr. Robinson. Everyday he motivates his students not only to learn great music but to be amazing people. Through the short time he has been at Munster High School, he has brought so much love to our choirs and has allowed us to have such amazing experiences including singing at Carnegie Hall under the direction of Mr. Whitacre himself. He never gives up on us even when we seem hopeless. He is incredibly humble and he’s always there for his students. He has touched our hearts and changed our lives for the better. All of us are so incredibly lucky to have him, and I know we will never have a director as amazing as Mr. Robinson ever again. He is truly one of a kind.

Martha Helen Schmidt

Ms. Schmidt has taught me and so many other students what it is to love music. She has spent her whole life writing and teaching, and I am so blessed to have been taught by someone with an enormous amount of talent in just one finger tip.

Dr. Rene Clausen

I nominate Dr. Rene Clausen at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN. For over 20 years, he has taken his students on a personal journey; learning about music, learning about themselves. He is lighthearted and funny, serious and intense. His search for excellence in each and every sound is infectious. A simple 8-part E-chord was enough to cleanse my soul from whatever I carried on my shoulders. I came to choir to sing and left with a family. I will always remember the wink and smile after the final cutoff, “Happy Birthday” on the piano, and his stunning ability to pull a limerick out of thin air. Experiencing choral music the way I did with him, in his choir, is something I will never have again, and will cherish forever.

Emmanuella Mazile

Emmanuella Mazile teaches choir at Lowell Scott Middle School. She’s only in her second year of teaching and has already made such a difference in their music program and in the lives of her students. Her kids come to class excited to learn because she engages them with respect, humor, and love. They’re not just learning songs in Miss Mazile’s class; they’re learning how to be musicians. Parents, teachers, and students alike recognize how beautifully–and quickly–she’s transformed an “easy A” choir class into a high-quality music education. Emmanuella is an incredible, natural teacher and advocate for kids who are often navigating a tumultuous period of their lives. I met Emmanuella in college while we were both studying music. I’m so immensely proud of her and thankful to call her my best friend; she’s a daily source of inspiration for me and I’m absolutely thrilled for all of the students in the years to come who will get to learn music from Miss Mazile.

Chris Koehn

Chris Koehn treats every child he encounters at the Coweta band room as his own. There have been so many nights where he has slept at the band room because we have gotten back so late from an event and he still has stuff to do. During marching season, he and his wife (one of our other directors) put in some of their own money to make our show as great as possible. Mr. Koehn is one of the most compassionate and loving people that I have ever met and it is impossible to describe how great he is. He knows when we’re havibg an off day and does everything in his power to change that. He pushes all of us to do our best everyday yet never yells at us when he knows we could have done better. Mr. Koehn is one of the greatest men I have ever met and I wish every person had the chance to sit and learn under him or just be able to talk to him.

Sandra Chandler

Ms. Chandler is an outstanding teacher that motivates her students with her great creative talents.

Dr. Paul Torkelson

Dr. Paul Torkelson is the director of choral studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. He directs the Symphonic Choir, the Nevada Chamber Singers and teaches choral conducting. He has conducted many All-State choirs and is frequently a guest clinician at state ACDA conventions. Many students call him Dr. T. Dr. T is an amazing inspiration to me as well as many students that sing for him. He challenges us to think critically when it comes to singing with technique and text stress. He encourages his singers to sing with passion and think about what the music means to them. Dr. T has invited his singers to sing in Carnegie Hall and Europe through the MidAmerica Productions. Dr. T, your kindness, compassion and dedication has greatly impacted many singers. Thank you, Dr. T!

Tricia Ubrig

Mrs. Ubrig is the current High School Choir Director at Mesquite High School, but when I was with her she was the Choir Director at Alhambra High School in Phoenix, AZ. Mrs. Ubrig made choir a place that everyone could call home, regardless of what our actual home life was like. She inspired so many of us to be passionate about music. Within the 2004-2006 graduating class, 3 of us went on to become Choir Directors. Even now, as I am directing my own choir, I think of her often and how much she meant to me. She changed my life forever and I know is still doing the same for many others.

Taylor Watts

There are no words great enough to describe Mr. Watts. He has helped me through a really tough spot in my life and is the kind of teacher who you can go to for advice, whether it be a musical decision or a personal life decision. More than anything, though, he has helped me learn that it’s ok to be my crazy weird random self and that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you. I don’t know of anyone as nerdy about leadership/social psychology as he is and I cannot wait to be a band director to give others what band has given to me.

Heidi Forslund

Heidi Forslund is a force to be reckoned with. For 7 years, she commuted between two schools, Cavelero Mid High and Lake Stevens High School, so that we could have a strong program in our district. When Heidi arrived at Lake Stevens School District, she had very small numbers at both schools (a mere 25 at the high school) and choir was not a name in our community. For the next 7 years, she worked hard to build structure and family within the district’s choir program. She upped the program’s overall participation to around 190 students with 2 classes at Cavelero, 2 at the High school, and one smaller jazz choir in the morning. Over the years, we have gone on to win many awards and many 1+ scores at both schools. Choir became a known force in the community, one that even band couldn’t overshadow. Heidi is someone else. She taught us values that no other music teacher had taugh me and gives everything she has to make sure choir is a thing everyone wants to be a part of and feels welcome.

Dr. Michael G. Martin

“If you need me up there to perform, then I didn’t do my job.” Dr Martin told this to the Hilliard Darby Symphonic Choir in 2007 as we were struggling with a piece and about to rehearse it without him in the room. Dr. Martin has no idea of the impact this statement made not only in my life as a musician, but in my career as I learn to grow and mentor others in a corporate setting. I know I never would have sang at Carnegie Hall without his musical influence in my life. He cares about the growth of his students, letting them take the reigns as musicians to find their voice. Oh blessed am I that I may sing. Thank you, Dr. Martin!

Mrs. Yvonne O’Dea

Mrs. Yvonne O’Dea is tremendously talented and loves sharing it with her students by inspiring them on a daily basis to be the best musicians they can be. Music has always been her passion from an early age where she went on to study it at Ithaca. She has been a High School Choral Director for many years and loves her job with all her heart. The unique bond she creates with each and every student is incredible. Mrs. O’Dea has the biggest heart and works hard by directing various choral ensembles. With all of her hard-work and talents, her students will be traveling to perform at Carnegie Hall this year. It’ll be the experience of a lifetime all thanks to this amazing lady. We appreciate everything you do. Thank you Mrs. O’Dea for always making the choir room a forever home and our happy place.

Martha Miller (U.A.E.)

I have been a choir student for Mrs. Miller since the sixth grade; I am currently a senior. If this doesn’t show how amazing she is, then I would like to put out there that because of her, I pushed myself as a musician to be selected in ACS’s audition-only choir: Chamber Choir. Mrs. Miller is truly one of the most warm-hearted, passionate and positive people I have met in my entire life. She has pushed me to be a better musician and has helped me truly appreciate the richness in music. Mrs. Miller’s connection to music is something undeniable and refreshing, she inspires me to be my best self. In college, Mrs. Miller was apart of the top choral program. Her choir traveled all over the United States to participate in choral festivals. One very memorable experience was in Los Angeles; Mr. Whitacre watched her choir perform Lux Aurumque. I think that Mrs. Miller has truly highlighted the beauty music has, and the stories that can be told all within one to two chords.

Mr. Benjamin Lupo

Not only is Mr. Lupo very kind and caring to his students, even going out of the to help us with subjects that didn’t relate to music, but he also made a major change in my life. Thanks to him, I fell in love with choir that helped make me the decision to major in voice performance at the Ohio State University. He helped me audition for numerous honors choirs such as one going to Carnegie Hall and one that toured Europe. I will never be able to thank him enough for the change he’s made in my life. Mr. Lupo is such a blessing!

Steve Durtschi

Steve Durtschi is one of the hardest working teachers I have ever had the pleasure of working with. His dedication to his students and the art of Choral conducting is unparalleled. During my time working with Steve Durtschi I learned so much about musicality and appreciation for the benefit of hard work. Steve Durtschi has been teaching all Choral and AP Music Theory classes at Timpanogos High School since 2010. During his time there his choirs have achieved the highest ranks possible at festivals they’ve participated in.

Mr. Robinson

Mr. Robinson is the highlight of everyone’s day every day. He is the kindest director I have ever had. For many of us he is more than a teacher or director, he is a good friend. Mr. Robinson is always pushing us to do our best, but in a fun and kind way. He challenges us and makes us want to be as great as we can be. He also very humble. If we don’t do well at competition he puts it all on himself and tells us he is sorry he didn’t do something different, which personally I think takes some guts even if he isn’t right about it being his fault. Mr. Robinson really knows a lot about music and he always wants to teach us a new thing to make us better.

Richard Medrano

With his open heart and musicality, Rich has given back to the community. He conducts with the City of Angels Community Choirs in Granada Hills, CA. This community choir includes the Master Chorale, as well as Children’s Choir. His emapthy and open arms invite you to join not only a group of singers, but a family – a humble family that creates wonderful music for the community. Rich has given the choir the opportunity to go Christmas caroling at a local hospital each year in December. He has also dedicated a concert for the children and has raised money for children’s scholarships. Rich has dedicated engraved hand bells of those who lost their lives in Sandy Hook.

Andrew Robinson

Mr. Robinson came into Munster High School my freshman year, and completely changed my outlook on music, and I know he has with so many other people. Everyday he sacrifices so much for our choirs, and always wants the best for every single student. He has a personal connection with every kid, and finds the best opportunities for us, one including us going to Carnegie Hall to be conducted by Mr. Whitacre himself. He has taught so many of us about compassion, and how music can be a way of expressing ourselves. He is the most honest man you will ever meet, and can teach you what it means to be in a choir.

Mrs. Kristen Johnson

Mrs. Johnson isn’t just an incredible music teacher, but also an incredible person. Mrs. J takes the time to get to know every single one of her choir students, even if it’s just talking to them after class. Mrs. J cares so much about every single one of her students, and she lets them know that. My freshman year of high school, we were both new kids, you could say. She was a new teacher in a school, and I a new student. The previous teacher had left her mark, and constantly Mrs. J would hear “That’s not how we did it before,” and would constantly be reminded that she was new. But she learned, she became a better teacher and person, and now she’s making her mark. I cannot thank Mrs. J enough for everything she’s ever done for me. She gave me a place to call home when my house wasn’t safe. She gave me a place to laugh, cry, and feel emotions I thought weren’t possible in my life anymore. Thank you Mrs. Johnson, you saved my life.

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