Three music teachers in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District recently received statewide recognition for their contributions to the district’s various music programs.

The California Music Educators Association recognized Kirsten Bersch as its 2020 Elementary Music Specialist Award recipient and Joni Swenson as the 2020 CMEA Richard L. Levin Orchestra Educator Award recipient, while Angela Woo was honored with the SCSBOA Gold Award during the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association’s Winter Conference, district officials recently announced.

SMMUSD’s Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator Tom Whaley said in an interview this week that the district is no stranger to receiving awards, “and a large part of this is because the district and its teachers have shown a commitment to going the extra mile.”

“We are constantly being asked, ‘How do you do what you do in your district?’ And, really, the reason we can do it is because of the support of this community and the educators who take the time to really help our students find success,” Whaley said as he detailed the different accolades that have been won by Santa Monica music students and educators. “The arts are so important to kids. It truly helps them in ways that can’t truly be quantified.”

Woo agreed Wednesday, when she stated: “Music and the arts is a critical component in our schools, more so now than ever before.”

Humans are inherently compelled to make connections with other humans, and music is a natural conduit for building those connections and relationships, according to Woo. “Participating in music helps give our students an actual voice for their emotions and feelings,” because involvement in the arts teaches students skills that are necessary to succeed in life, including problem-solving and decision-making.

Woo added the arts also build self-confidence and self-discipline, “and, music is the only academic subject that provides a collaborative artistic experience by welcoming and celebrating our vast diversity of individual students.”

Needless to say, it is a very special privilege to be a music educator, Woo said, adding, “I am inspired everyday by my students to be the best for them.”

**About the awardees**

Bersch has been teaching elementary music in SMMUSD for 20 years, according to district officials, who said the CMEA Elementary Specialist Award winner has been honored for her excellence in elementary instrumental music instruction and is well-known for being knowledgeable, well organized, passionate, dedicated and talented. Bersch has also been an advocate and leader in bringing the new SMMUSD mariachi music program to Santa Monica students.

Swenson has been the director of orchestras at Santa Monica High School for the last 19 years and was recently chosen to receive the prestigious CMEA Richard L. Levin Orchestra Educator Award, Honoring Excellence in Orchestra Education and Performance. Under her direction, the Samohi orchestra has won numerous awards and students have gone on to perform internationally in Vienna, Austria, Argentina, China and Prague. Swenson has also guest conducted honor orchestras throughout California and has presented sessions at CMEA and SCSBOA conferences on numerous occasions.

Woo currently serves as the instrumental music director at John Adams Middle School and has worked for SMMUSD since 1995. She enjoys an active schedule as a guest conductor, clinician and adjudicator with numerous honor groups and has been invited by universities to lead professional development workshops for music educators at both the middle school and high school levels. In 2005, Woo was recognized by the Santa Monica Rotary Club as the Santa Monica-Malibu District Teacher of the Year.

“We congratulate these three extraordinary music teachers on their recent recognition,” School

Board President Jon Kean said. “We are fortunate to have the Santa Monica Education Foundation’s financial support for all our Santa Monica students, starting in elementary school, to receive an exemplary arts education. Our music teachers deliver high quality programs and opportunities to students at all levels.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.