The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 10, 2013

$10,000 teach-off

Liberty high teacher 1 of 20 finalists for classroom cash

— Liberty High School theater and music teacher Everett Jeremy Rodriguez is one of 20 finalists across the nation to win a $10,000 classroom grant through the Great American Teach-Off.

Finalists now depend on public votes to secure their place as one of America’s most innovative teachers.

Voting began March 4 and each week the field will be narrowed by two finalists based on public votes. Rodriguez and his students are depending on votes to get them through each subsequent elimination.

Rodriguez, fondly called “Rod” by his students, is nothing if not innovative.

He teaches theater, music appreciation, band and created the Liberty High School World Percussion Ensemble.

The only group of its kind in southern West Virginia, the ensemble both performs and leads educational drumming workshops facilitated by the students.

“The special part about this group is that people don’t have to listen to me talking. The students are the ones talking and teaching,” he said.

The World Percussion Ensemble has performed in a variety of venues, including the Clay Center in Charleston and Culturefest in Pipestem. They have also taught a diverse audience about world drumming, from Head Start students to senior groups.

Rodriguez shares music with his students in a way that imparts in them character, responsibility, purpose and self-motivation. Because block scheduling has reduced the number of students who are able to choose to take band, Rodriguez has built a program for his students that results in life-long musicians and focuses on teaching the whole student.

“I think it is important to have a broader world view overall. I had the opportunity to travel to China on a tour with teachers. While there, someone in our tour noticed something the Chinese were doing and said, ‘Wow, they’re doing it backwards.’ At the time I thought how funny that was because the Chinese had been doing it 4,500 years longer than we have,” he explained. “Our students are entering a global economy and need to be able to think as global citizens.”

Rodriguez takes his students to colleges and universities where he arranges private tutoring lessons with college professors. He encourages and assists students through pre-college testing and the application process, even personally paying for registration test fees, and hosting after-school study groups for them. The result of his efforts creates a college-going mentality in his program. Currently 89.5 percent of his program graduates attend an institution of higher education.

Several of his band students are going on to college to study music, many of them on a scholarship.

Most of his students play multiple instruments.

“One of the things we try to emphasize in our music program, besides the fundamentals, is creativity,” he explained.

Many of the students are singers and songwriters and, under Rodriguez’s guidance, have recorded their own songs using recording equipment at the school. His students are now collaborating to produce music videos for their original compositions.

With the grant money from The Great American Teach-Off, Rodriguez would invest in a computerized piano laboratory with a digital program called Finale and recording software to supplement the students’ music education and give them a place where they can compose their own music digitally.

With a lab like this, students would be able to do musical notation, play back their compositions, and print their work. Rodriguez would be able to easily write his own composition assignments for the students.

Rodriguez has recently been named Liberty High School Teacher of the Year and credits his success and work ethic to his own “great teachers.”

The two grant recipients, one for grades K-6 and another for grades 7-12, will be named this spring.

To cast a vote for Rodriguez in The Great American Teach-Off, visit

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