Kennedy Center Names Recipients of Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced the 2019 recipients of the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards-a series of grants that recognize American teachers by spotlighting their extraordinary impact on the lives of students.
Six teachers were selected in 2019: David Goldberg of Silver Spring, Maryland; Jennifer Jimenez of Miami, Florida; Matthew Schott of O'Fallon, Missouri; Beth Strege of Schaumburg, Illinois; Olga Torres of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Nancy Vitulli of Cranston, Rhode Island.
The teachers were selected from a pool of nominations received through the Kennedy Center's website. Award recipients each receive $10,000 and are showcased, along with the former students they inspired, on a website dedicated to inspirational teachers. The awards, created by the Center in honor of Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday in 2010, were initiated and funded through the generous support of Myrna and Freddie Gershon.
2019 marks the final year of the award and to date, 81 awards totaling $810,000 have been presented. Over the program's nine years, educators represented subjects as wide ranging as physical education, religious studies, music, english, and physics along with a diversity of roles including librarians, coaches, principals, and college professors working in public, private, and correctional institutions. Geographic breadth has included educators from New York, Mississippi, Michigan to California, North Carolina, Kentucky, and more from across the United States.
In many people's lives there is at least one teacher who inspired and helped them become who they are today. Although the range of subjects and grade levels vary widely, these inspirational teachers have one thing in common: each has overwhelmingly impacted his or her students' lives and encouraged them to reach their potential. Quotes from nomination essays include:
From Lindsay Schallon, who nominated Matthew Schott: "In a world where it felt like no matter how hard I tried, I was never good enough, Mr. Schott's empathy was transformative. To him, I wasn't the tardy kid-I was the kid working 40 hours a week after school because her home life was atrocious...I ended up going to journalism school, a pursuit inspired by Mr. Schott's encouragement. Today, I'm a senior editor at Glamour."
From Sandy Matczak, who nominated Olga Torres: "She genuinely cared about her students and she spent one-on-one time with each person she taught. She focused on our barriers and identified our strengths to overcome them... Mrs. Torres taught me that I was worthy of a life... because of her commitment to motivating her students, I went to both college and graduate school."
From Michael Pisaturo, who nominated Nancy Vitulli: "... as a nervous freshman riddled by social anxiety, I still never believed I had a voice worthy of a spot on that sacred stage... I explained to her how I had managed to convince myself that no one truly wanted to hear what I had to say... She paused for a moment, looking at me through her signature tortoiseshell glasses 'Well, we want to hear you.'... Ms. Vitulli stopped at nothing to help me to find my voice."
"Teachers define us," stated Stephen Sondheim. "In our early years, when we are still being formed, they often see in us more than we see in ourselves, more even than our families see and, as a result, help us to evolve into what we ultimately become. Good teachers are touchstones to paths of achieving more than we might have otherwise accomplished, in directions we might not have gone."
"Throughout our national outreach programs within schools across the country, we see first-hand the extraordinary and lasting impact that teachers can have on their students, their schools, and community." said Mario Rossero, Senior Vice President of Education at the Kennedy Center. "This award is a wonderful opportunity to recognize the passionate and hard work teachers are doing to awaken the joy of learning for their students. We are in constant awe of what they achieve."
Noted composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim frequently attributes his success to the teachers in his life. The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards are presented around Sondheim's birthday-March 22-to a select group of teachers, kindergarten through college, who are nominated via the Kennedy Center website. Nominators must be at least 18 years of age and have been a student of the nominee. Teacher nominees must teach or have taught in a K-12 school, college, or university in the United States. Teachers of all grade levels and subject areas are eligible. A panel of judges reviews a pool of nominations and selects the recipients based on the power and quality of the nomination from their former students.
Winner of the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre, Stephen Sondheim has received more Tonys than any other composer. Mr. Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for Saturday Night, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Anyone Can Whistle, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, The Frogs, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park With George (for which he received a Pulitzer Prize), Into the Woods, Assassins, Passion, and Road Show, as well as lyrics for West Side Story,Gypsy and Do I Hear a Waltz?, and additional lyrics for Candide. Revues of his work include Sondheim on Sondheim, Side by Side by Sondheim, Marry Me a Little, You're Gonna Love Tomorrow, Putting It Together and A Bed and a Chair. For films and television, he composed the scores of Stavisky and Reds and wrote songs for Dick Tracy, for which he received an Academy Award. He also received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1993. Mr. Sondheim is on the Council of the Dramatists Guild, having served as its president from 1973 to 1981.