The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards

The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards

14 Teachers from Across the United States Receive National Award for Excellence in the Program’s Sixth Year Bringing the Total Awards Given to 61 Totaling $610,000 Since the Awards’ Inception

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced the 2016 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. 14 teachers were selected in 2016 from a pool 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. To date, 61 awards totaling $610,000 have been presented.

The teachers are: Michael Bechtel of Waverly, Iowa; Cazzie Brown of Salt Lake City, Utah; Christine Brown of Menifee, California; Amy Insley of Poquoson, Virginia; Pamela Izvanariu of Miami, Florida; Ramona Mahood of Memphis, Tennessee; David Moellenkamp of Long Beach, California; Nelson Monteith of Little Deer Isle, Maine; Ferial Pearson of Ralston, Nebraska; Cristina Pla-Guzman of Hialeah, Florida; Marta Reid Stewart of Washington, D.C.; John Reid of Carlinville, Illinois; Teren Shaffer of Santa Ana, California; and Davey Yarborough of Washington, D.C.

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: “For the first time in my life, someone told me I could go through any door I wanted if I worked hard enough to achieve it.”; “Ms. Flanagan had given me the greatest gift anyone could give—a true love of reading. That gift has since helped me to achieve my true dream to go to college to study medicine.”; “He taught me that living with passion catalyzed an even further zest for life within you, allowing you to reach higher levels of your own potential.”

“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.” 

 “We see the profound impact and difference teachers can make through our work in schools across the country,” said Mario Rossero, Senior Vice President of Education at the Kennedy Center. “The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award is a wonderful opportunity to recognize the passionate work teachers are doing to impart the joy of learning on their students and communities, and we are grateful for all they accomplish.”

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 reviews a pool of nominations and selects the recipients based on the power and quality of the nomination from their former students. Nominations for the 2017 cycle will be start being accepted in September 2016. 

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 and A Bed and a Chair. 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®. 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.

Nominators for posthumous recognition of a teacher must designate a 501(c)3 organization or fund within a K-12 school, school system, college, or university in the United States to receive the $10,000 award in the deceased teacher’s name. To learn more about the Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards, please visit

About Education at the Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center retains its commitment as the nation’s cultural center to educating and enlightening children and adults in Washington and around the country. The Center’s national education programs include: Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child, which works with 20 municipalities and their school districts around the country to develop a long-range strategic plan for arts education; ARTSEDGE, a website that offers standards-based materials

for use in and out of the classroom; Partners in Education, which forges relationships between an arts organization and its neighboring school systems to build effective arts education programs for teachers and teaching artists; Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network, works with 30 state organizations on arts education policy issues; Explore the Arts, which provide insight into the cultural and historical context of the works presented on stage and sparks dialogue between audiences and the artists who have created the performances through participatory workshops, demonstrations, panels, master classes, and open rehearsals; and the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards, which acknowledge teachers of grades K-12 whose efforts have made a significant impact on their students; and Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences on Tour, which brings original Kennedy Center productions for students and families into communities and performing arts centers around the country.

In and around D.C., the Kennedy Center’s programs include Changing Education Through the Arts, a program that works with seven schools in the area to affect long-term change in school culture through professional learning in arts integration; Professional Development Opportunities for Teachers, which trains Washington-area educators to teach the arts or other subject areas through the arts; and Washington, D.C. Partnership Schools, where the Center provides resources and teaching artist residencies to 22 elementary, junior, and senior high schools in Washington, D.C. The Center also mounts more than 100 events and performances of theater, music, dance, and opera throughout the season for more than 100,000 local school-aged children.

In addition, the Center offers multiple skill development programs for young artists and professionals both locally and nationally, including the National Symphony Orchestra’s Youth Fellowship Program, Summer Music Institute, and High School Competition; Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, Opera Institute, and Kids Create Opera Partnership; the biennial New Visions/New Voices forum for development of new plays for young people; Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell; Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead; VSA’s Playwright Discovery Program, Young Soloists, and Visual Arts Programs; arts administration internships; and the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival which impacts hundreds of thousands of college-aged theater students across the country and marks its 48th anniversary in 2016. 

Funding Credits:

The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award is made possible by Myrna and Freddie Gershon. 

For more information about the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards, please visit