By Gavin Paterniti
WESTFIELD - A Chautauqua County music teacher is well on his way to winning a national award for his contributions to inspiring a love for music in his students.
Kent Knappenberger, sixth- through 12th-grade music director at Westfield Academy and Central School, plays Celtic harp during a performance of Westfield’s high school Celtic/American string band.
Kent Knappenberger, who works with sixth- through 12th-grade students at Westfield Academy and Central School, is one of 25 semifinalists selected from across the nation to win the first ever Music Educator Award - presented by The Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation.
According to its website, the Music Educator Award was established to recognize current educators - teaching kindergarten through college, in both public and private schools - who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education, and who demonstrate a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in the schools.
The award was open to any current music teacher in the United States, and the teachers were able to be nominated by anyone, both inside and outside of the education system. Subsequently, more than 30,000 teacher nominations from all 50 states were accepted.
Knappenberger said he was nominated by multiple individuals with whom he shares either a personal or professional connection, including a former student and the parent of a current student. According to Kevin Gleason, a family friend, his nomination ballot was also cast in favor of Knappenberger.
"As soon as I heard he was a semifinalist, I was just so thrilled because he's had such a big impact on my life," Gleason said.
"I just love the fact that he's getting this chance to compete and has gotten so far in this. And it's amazing to know that, out of 30,000 applicants, he's in the top 25. I hope he makes it to the top 10."
Knappenberger said his level of advancement in the award's selection process has been a great achievement that he intends to treat as a learning experience.
"It's been humbling," he said. "But I just know there are so many talented teachers out there and, as part of this process, you're kind of put under this microscope of many different facets of your teaching (method). I just felt like, for everything I do that's been wrong or all of the mistakes I've made, there's a lot to learn in teaching any subject, and I'm still learning."
Knappenberger said he attributes much of his success in the process to the multitude of musical opportunities awarded students at Westfield.
"We play music from many cultures, and some from our own culture, that doesn't often get played in a school environment," Knappenberger said. "Rural schools and education probably don't get the same opportunities as suburbia. I wanted to bring some of those opportunities that would be unique to a small-town situation to our school. There's a very broad scope of what each student's experience could be, and it's not all directed at just choir and band. Music study has many facets in our school. It's really cool that everybody can be a part of it, and that's very important to me."
"I'm thinking that when (the award committee) saw what happens here, they probably saw that there were a lot of kids involved in many different things," he added. "We're a tiny place that might graduate 60 kids in a class, but I thought there should be a way for us to open up some doors for any kid that wants in. I believe our curriculum comes organically from our community and our small-town identity. We're not trying to be something that we're not, and I'm trying to act as an advocate for quality rural education."
The group of 25 semifinalists will be narrowed down to a more succinct group of 10 finalists in December, each of whom will receive a monetary award. Nine finalists will receive a $1,000 honorarium, as well as a matching grant for each of their respective districts. The winner will receive a trip to Los Angeles to receive the Music Educator Award at the 2014 Grammy Awards ceremony in January, as well as a $10,000 honorarium.
For more information on the Music Educator Award, visit www.grammyintheschools.com, and select the "Grammy Music Educator Award" link at the top of the main page.