They say that those who can’t do, teach. We don’t agree. In fact, neither do the Grammy’s. That’s why each year, they undergo exhaustive selection process to choose one music teacher in the United States to receive the Grammy Music Educator Award. The Grammy Music Educator award was established in 2013 to recognize music teachers ranging from kindergarten to college who made a significant impact and contribution to music education.
Other than learning that one of your students was nominated for a Grammy, for a music teacher, being nominated for a Grammy honoring their work to transform children’s lives is one of the best feelings in the world. 213 quarterfinalists hailing from 194 schools in 42 states made the cut, and among them are seven Little Kids Rock teachers!
At Park Place Middle School, an empty music classroom waits to be used to it’s full potential. Principal Glenda Esperance wants to expand the music program, but with a small budget for more resources and no music teacher to build the curriculum, she didn’t know where to begin. That is, until she hired Catherine Plichta.
Catherine began her tenure as the music teacher at Park Place Middle School and had a blank canvas to work with, as far as the music program was concerned. Her first step was to find new and more resources. From her student teaching, she learned about nonprofit organizations and philanthropic companies that she could contact, like Little Kids Rock, Amp Up NYC (Little Kids Rock’s partnership initiative with Berklee College of Music), VH1 Save The Music, Sam Ash, and others who would donate instruments and other resources to her school.
Once her classroom was stocked with musical instruments, she did something radical, with her principal’s support, that would change the school for every 6th-8th grade student. She made music a requirement for all 140 students. Catherine formed six orchestras, three bands, two rock bands, a choir and even a musical theater class, all of which were available to her students. All of Catherine’s students perform in either band or orchestra, plus any of the other ensembles she offers. Many of her students play multiple instruments in different ensembles, an amazing feat for a middle school music program in its first year.
Catherine’s colleagues were shocked by the level of change she was able to forge over the course of just one year. She even inspired administrators and teachers to learn instruments and play with their students during their concerts! However, more so than the way she transformed her school and her colleagues, Catherine’s music program has transformed her students’ lives. Since Catherine has drawn the music out of her students, other teachers have seen drastic behavioral changes in many of them, like a greater sense of responsibility, better focus, and even more respect.
One of her favorite parts about her job is using the power of music to reach the skeptical students and truly transform their lives by unlocking their inner music makers. When she sees them beaming from the stage at their school concerts, she feels a sense of pride that she says is indescribable.
The pinnacle of her first year at Park Place Middle School was when she secured the opportunity for her students to record “America” with Gloria Estefan for the Macy’s 4th of July Spectacular. Not only did her students get to meet a legendary recording artist but they also got the chance to record in a professional recording studio! The experience is one that her students will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Though Catherine has only been at Park Place Community Middle School for one year, she has decorously been nominated for the Grammy Music Educator Award. Catherine believes that this national award brings attention to music educators who don’t get enough credit for the work that they do, especially since their programs are usually the first to be cut. She is truly honored and humbled by the nomination, especially because it is for doing something that she is so passionate about – changing kids’ lives via music.
“Even if I won the lottery,” she says, “I would still come to work everyday to teach music.”
Written by: Natalie Morrison