WESTFIELD – The red carpet was rolled out at Westfield Academy and Central School recently for a Grammy nominee.
Students and staff were dressed in their best black tie attire and the school’s auditorium was decorated for a red carpet affair. WACS music teacher Kent Knappenberger, a top 10 finalist in the first-ever Grammy Music Educator of the Year competition, was the center of attention.
Knappenberger, who teaches sixth- through 12th-grade music, thanked everyone for dressing up, saying it was “overwhelming” to see the middle school choir students in suits and tuxedos. He thanked his family, the school community and especially the students who appeared in the teaching video submitted to the Grammy Foundation.
“I picked them for the teaching video because they would try anything,” he said. “I am so glad to represent our school community because of everything that happens here every day. … We make the most of our big resource every day and that is people.
Lon Knappenberger, middle and high school science teacher and Kent’s brother, served as master of ceremonies for the afternoon. He shared the spotlight with his brother by accepting an award from the district for being named a New York State Master Teacher. Superintendent David Davison said the assembly would be similar to the Grammy’s award show with musical performances, speeches and awards. Kent Knappenberger was also presented with a “rammy,” a statue of a gold sheep.
Various students were among those praising Mr. K, as he is known by his students, throughout the afternoon. Senior Mackenzi Habig and junior Chris Cockram presented the top 10 life lessons as taught by Knappenberger. The lessons were: don’t consider yourself above or below a situation; when singing make sure you show off talents to the world; don’t be afraid to fail; everyone needs someone, no matter how important they are; have standards; be early to any flight; don’t waste precious time; it’s OK for men to sing; and be a swimmer instead of an ice skater. The number one life lesson was to see the good in the world with eyes full of wonder.
“Mr. K once said, ‘If I could give you one gift, it would be to look at the world with wonder.’ … Try to see the beauty in all the things you’re doing,” Habig said.
During the event, there were several awards presented to Knappenberger including a certificate of recognition from SUNY Fredonia Dean for College of Visual and Performing Arts Ralph Blasting and Dr. Karl Boelter, director of the School of Music; two certificates were presented, one to the district and one to Knappenberger, from Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES; and Knappenberger was given the key to the village.
“The key to the village is only bestowed upon distinguished persons and honored guests of the village of Westfield. … In Westfield giving the key is symbolic since the village has no gates to unlock. We have all observed Kent’s love for music and his passion to share that with his students. He has turned that love and passion into lessons of self esteem and life-learning experiences,” said Robert Cochran, Westfield deputy mayor.
In addition to students, fellow teachers spoke during the ceremony. Helen Ihasz, instrumental teacher, praised Knappenberger for being a great teacher and helping the music department become close like family. She said he is “selfless, humble and kind hearted” and encourages her to strive to be a better teacher. Middle school music teacher Douglas Tramontana said Knappenberger has been a mentor at WACS.
“I’ve gone to school for eight or nine years to become a teacher and I can honestly say that I have learned so much more by being in the same classroom and watching Mr. K,” Tramontana said.
Nate Hanes, senior, said he was surprised, but not shocked to hear Knappenberger’s selection as a finalist adding he is worthy and well deserving. Senior Damian Lyon said everyone was excited to find out the great news, which Knappenberger shared to students while in class.
“When we heard he was a finalist, we’re weren’t all that surprised. He’s that kind of teacher,” Hanes said.
Musical performances throughout the ceremony were by The Ape Men, seventh- and eighth-grade boys chorus, the high school band, McClurg Street Band and Choir of Wolverines. If Knappenberger is selected as the winner, he will travel to Los Angeles on Jan. 25. The winner will be announced Wednesday between 7-9 a.m. on CBS.