The National Awards for Excellence in the classroom carries a $10,000 stipend to teachers nominated by their students and chosen by composer Stephen Sondheim for their "extraordinary impact on the lives of students."
The winning teachers are: Dr. John C. Carr (posthumous) of Washington, D.C.; Dr. Melissa Collins of Memphis, TN; Jack Edmond Ellis of St. Clair Shores, MI; J.P. Fugler of Van, TX; Vivian Fusillo of Winona, MN; Arthur Hall of Lumberton, NC; Joshua Hosler of Lake Orion, MI; Arlene Kies of Durham, NH; Dr. Gagik Melikyan of Northridge, CA; Teresa Parrott of Salisbury, MD; Tracey Rains of Sevierville, TN; Jim Robert of Ann Arbor, MI; and Evelyn Seubert of Reseda, CA.
The awards were created in honor of Sondheim’s 80th birthday in 2010 and are initiated and funded by Myrna and Freddie Gershon.
After reviewing the submissions of the winning teachers, Sondheim requested that for the first time in the program’s five years, a nominating student also receive a grant. Valerie Peters will receive an award for the outstanding nomination of her teacher Arlene Kies. Peters, now a professional pianist, was born with a cleft hand, with only a thumb and small finger on one hand. The first time she met her new teacher, Kies sat down at the piano and played with just her thumb and index finger. As Peters stated in her video submission, “It was the first time anyone had ever tried to get inside my body and feel what I felt when I played the piano.”
In a prepared statement, Sondheim wrote, “Teachers define us. 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.”