When Karla Cherwinski accepts the 2019 Music Educator of the Year Award for elementary education April 6 from the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, she will add another accomplishment to her childhood dream of being a teacher.
"I always wanted to be a music teacher from the time I was in middle school and beyond," Cherwinski said. "I think music contributes to a well-rounded person. I think our souls need nourishment and music is one of the very important ways we can nourish that part of our soul from the time we are little all the way to when we are 90 years old.
"Music is an unspoken language that fills that need in our bodies and I think it contributes to your brain processing more traditional things, such as science and math."
Since 1997, the CSO has honored one elementary, one middle school and one high school teacher each year who "make a difference in the community through a dedication to music education and promotion of a greater understanding of and appreciation for the art form," said Rolanda Copley, publicist for the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts.
Other honorees this year are James Chickrell, director of bands, Logan Elm High School, Logan Elm Local Schools, secondary education; and Catherine Willis, founder of Urban Strings Columbus Youth Orchestra, community education.
Each winner will receive a $2,500 music-education grant.
Cherwinski, a Canal Winchester resident and CWHS graduate, has been with Canal Winchester Local Schools for 20 years and currently teaches first- and second-grade music at Indian Trail Elementary School.
One of her nominators for the CSO award was retired Capital University professor Sandy Mathias, who was one of Cherwinski's music-education instructors and student-teaching supervisor.
Mathias said Cherwinski's "joy of music" and her ability to work with students in a positive, playful approach sets her apart from other educators.
"They are mentally engaged to the point they don't even know they are learning, but they are learning," Mathias said. "The other thing that sets her apart is not everybody can teach other people how to teach and she is very good at that because she steps back and lets those students try their wings."
Superintendent Jim Sotlar said Cherwinski is a dedicated and vital member of the district staff.
"Her commitment to our students of Canal Winchester is unsurpassed, and she is a well-respected teacher throughout the entire Canal Winchester community," Sotlar said. "Her passion for music education goes beyond her classroom ... as she serves as a mentor for Canal Winchester music teachers throughout the district and opens her classrooms to student observers and student teachers with a future in music education."
Cherwinski credits her parents and grandmother for supporting her creative side and "great music teachers" who inspired her passion to pursue it. The classically trained pianist started playing the keyboard in second grade and added clarinet to her repertoire in fifth grade.
Cherwinski said she loves what she does and feels fortunate that she has gotten to work with so many students.
"I am proud that I am the foundation they build upon in their musical endeavors -- that joy and love of music in their arts and mind," she said.
Cherwinski earned her bachelor's degree in music and her Kodaly certification from Capital University and master's degree in music education from Ohio State University. She is coordinator of the music education track of the master's program and is the new director of the Kodaly Institute at Capital University, named for and based on the teachings of Hungarian composer, music educator and philosopher Zoltan Kodaly.
She also is the program co-chair for the 2019 Organization of American Kodaly Educators National Conference that will be held in Columbus in March.
The Kodaly program is a "discovery-based, hands on" teaching method that uses rhythms and melodies from folk songs to encourage students to create music with their voices and learn music, Cherwinski said.
"It's a very joy-based, very fun environment," she said.
In her free time, Cherwinski teaches private piano lessons, performs and directs services at David Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canal Winchester and accompanies high school students to solo and ensemble contests.