Six Teachers from Across the United States Receive The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards

Six Teachers from Across the United States Receive The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards

By Jason Cocovinis on March 20, 2014
(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced the 2014 winners of Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards—a series of annual grants which recognize American teachers by spotlighting their extraordinary impact on the lives of students. Six teachers were selected in 2014 from a pool of hundreds of nominations received through the Kennedy Center’s website. Award recipients each receive $10,000 and are showcased, along with the people they inspired, on a website dedicated to inspirational teachers. The awards were created in honor of Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday in 2010 and were initiated and funded through the generous support of Myrna and Freddie Gershon.

The teachers are: Ellen Beck, M.D. of La Jolla, CA; Linda De Vries of Northridge, CA; Kristin Grant of Glencoe, IL; Erin Grocki of Peabody, MA; Michael Gyra of Hyannis, MA; and Dr. Leonard Norman Primiano of Radnor, PA.

In many people's lives there is at least one teacher who inspired and helped them become who they are today. Although the range of subjects and grades taught vary widely, these teachers have one thing in common: each has overwhelmingly impacted his or her students’ lives and encouraged them to reach their potential. Quotes from nomination essays include: “I currently work as an English teacher and I strive to help my students with the same focus and attention that Dr. Primiano gave to me”. . . “She reached across the lines of socio-economics, race, class, gender and privilege to show she cared, and remind me that I was somebody” . . . “She is responsible for my roots in social justice—my inability to be a bystander.”

“Teachers define us,” stated Stephen Sondheim. “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.”

“The Kennedy Center is delighted to administer such a meaningful award in the name of one of the greatest artists of our time,” said Darrell M. Ayers, Vice President of Education and Jazz at the Kennedy Center. “Through our work, we interact with thousands of teachers and millions of students across the United States each year, so we see the difference talented teachers make.”

Noted composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim frequently attributes his success to the teachers in his life. The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards are presented each year around Sondheim’s birthday—March 22—to a select group of teachers, kindergarten through college, who are nominated via the Kennedy Center website. Nominators must be at least 18 years of age and have been a student of the nominee. Teacher nominees must teach or have taught in a K-12 school, college, or university in the United States. Teachers of all grade levels and subject areas are eligible. A panel of judges reviewed a pool of nominations and selected the recipients based on the power and quality of the nomination from their former students.

Winner of the Special Tony Award® for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre, Stephen Sondheim has received more Tonys® than any other composer. Mr. Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for Saturday Night, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Anyone Can Whistle, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, The Frogs, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park With George (for which he received a Pulitzer Prize), Into the Woods, Assassins, Passion and Road Show, as well as lyrics for West Side Story, Gypsy and Do I Hear a Waltz? and additional lyrics for Candide. Revues of his work include Sondheim on Sondheim, Side by Side by Sondheim, Marry Me a Little, You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow, and Putting It Together. For films and television, he composed the scores of Stavisky and Reds and wrote songs for Dick Tracy, for which he received an Academy Award® and Evening Primrose. He also received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1993. Mr. Sondheim is on the Council of the Dramatists Guild, having served as its president from 1973 to 1981.

To learn more about the Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards, please visit