An Upper Arlington teacher is one of three central Ohio music educators recognized by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra for contributions to the community.

At Tremont Elementary School, Tino Benedetti realizes he's been blessed by support from Upper Arlington schools and the community when he acknowledges he's running out of classroom space for a stock of music instruments and materials.

Despite the bounty, he still focuses how to evolve or transition his classes and after-school programs to reach more students in new ways.

"At this young age, it's just about giving them opportunities to try things," Benedetti said. "They're so quick to learn that when you give them opportunities, they excel."

That philosophy and a nomination by Tremont Principal Jim Buffer helped Benedetti earn a CSO 2018 Music Educator Award in the Elementary Division.

John Laswell, Westerville South High School band director, is the winner in the Secondary Division and Kathy Larkins, director of the Columbus Chorus Sweet Adelines is the winner in the Community Division

The annual awards seek to honor individuals who make a difference in the community through a dedication to music education.

The annual awards announced Feb. 5 also recognize those who promote a greater understanding of and appreciation for music.

Benedetti, 36, is in his third year as a music teacher at Tremont.

In recognizing Benedetti, the CSO noted his work running a guitar program at Upper Arlington High School for roughly 10 years, as well as his efforts to reach a growing number of students at Tremont.

"Along with Lina Taylor, an intervention specialist at the school, he runs an after-school guitar and ukulele club that serves more than 60 students each year, as well as a songwriting club with media specialist Kristin Bugnitz," a Columbus Symphony Orchestra press release stated.

"Benedetti directs several productions each year which highlight the varied musical talents of students at the school. He believes that elementary students need an opportunity to discover their own strengths through exposure to many instruments, musical styles and performance outlets."

Benedetti said his love of music stretches back to his early childhood, noting his father was a classical music and symphony "fanatic," and that his mother loved music of all kinds.

He said his parents often took him to CSO performances when he was an elementary student.

He called the Music Educator Award "an overwhelming honor."

A believer that education is his true calling, Benedetti said music has been the outlet that's enabled him to pursue his dream.

Although he might have just as easily become a science or math teacher, he said music has offered dynamic ways for him to reach students.

"I think music is unique in that there are so many ways to draw students in," he said. "I think I have an advantage in being able to find ways to get students excited about learning.

"The nice thing about the music curriculum is it's so open, in that you can teach to the music in so many different ways."

In nominating him for the award, Buffer said Benedetti's passion for music is evident the moment you walk into his classroom, "where students' eyes are drawn to ukuleles, keyboards, drums and numerous other instruments," and where music either greets students or they begin playing almost immediately at the outset of every class.

"Mr. Benedetti is a master teacher," Buffer said. "He uses music as the lens to teach children essential life skills.

"His lessons involve cooperative learning, sharing and modeling appropriate behaviors. Tino's students are actively involved in their learning -- the level of student engagement is off the charts."

Buffer added Tremont's staff and parents also benefit from Benedetti's work and teaching style; the school ends each year with a music festival Benedetti established that features the talents of students and staff.

"Mr. Benedetti believes in the power of music to change the world," Buffer said. "He spends countless hours of his after-school time creating opportunities for students to explore, whether through guitar club, ukulele club, or choir, knowing that these activities will inspire students to be more likely to embrace future musical opportunities.

"His genuinely kind demeanor makes kids feel safe to explore and take risks."

In addition to the award, which will be presented during a CSO dinner at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 17, at the Sheraton Capitol Square, 75 E. State St., Columbus, Benedetti will receive a $2,500 grant.

Acknowledging his existing inventory of instruments, he said he might use the funds to expand the music program in a new direction.

"We're maybe thinking about recording and sound equipment so we can get on the more technical side of music," he said. "It certainly will give more opportunities to grow."