By Wendy Holdren
GLEN DANIEL —
Thanks to the community, the students and a teacher who truly goes above and beyond, Liberty High School’s music department is now $10,000 richer.
Everett Jeremy Rodriguez, a theater and music teacher at Liberty, was presented with a $10,000 check Wednesday during a “surprise” ceremony, honoring him as the winner of the Great American Teach-Off for grades 7-12.
“I hate to break the hearts of the administrators, so no, I had no idea it was going on,” Rodriguez said with a smile.
Over the past six weeks, public votes have been piling in to determine one winner out of 20 finalists across the nation for the Great American Teach-Off grant.
Rodriguez ended up on top, but he said he couldn’t have done it alone.
“I wish I could say it’s about me, but it’s about you and the community we live in,” he said to the student assembly. “Everyone got online and supported us. Thank you so much. We’re going to do some really cool stuff here.”
Hugs, high-fives and handshakes were in abundance when Rodriguez’ students flooded around him.
“I’ve had the pleasure of having Mr. Rodriguez as a teacher for the past six years, since he first got here,” said senior Frank Treadway.
“He helped us form a student rock band. It’s been, by far, the best six years of my life. He’s not like a teacher to me, but more like a best friend.”
Treadway said the band started out with 12 members, but is now up to 25, thanks to Rodriguez’ innovative teaching.
“These aren’t normal ‘band kids.’ Some of them play sports. He really brings all cultures in.”
He said the band isn’t your typical marching band either; these young musicians are rocking out on the sidelines of their sporting events.
Treadway was very excited that Rodriguez won the Teach-Off and he said he looks forward to the implementation of the new software.
With the $10,000 grant, Rodriguez plans to invest in a computerized piano laboratory with a digital program called Finale and recording software to supplement the students’ music education. With this lab, students will be able to compose their music digitally, do musical notation, play back their composition and print their work.
“I’m very lucky to have such resourceful, creative students,” Rodriguez said. “We are progressive in that we allow students to come up with their own ideas and have some creative freedom.”
He said the administrators show his teaching methods great support, as they strive to be as cutting-edge as possible at Liberty High School.
“We just want to help support our students and create as many opportunities for them as possible.”
As for winning one of only two nationwide awards in the Great American Teach-Off, Rodriguez said he wasn’t helping put our state on the map: “West Virginia has always been on the map.”
“We had a strong advantage because of the strong relationships we have in this state versus being in a large city with a huge population surrounded by strangers. West Virginia values and who we are is very important.”
While Rodriguez has a love of his state, he also hopes to bring a sense of culture to his classroom. Not only did he create the Liberty High School World Percussion Ensemble, but he encourages students to attend multi-cultural music clinics. He also shares his experiences from a trip he took to China and hopes to soon bring back inspiration from Cuba.
“He exemplifies everything we want to see in a teacher,” said Raleigh County Superintendent of Schools Jim Brown.
Principal Rocky Cangemi said Rodriguez has always gone above and beyond.
“He is always focused on student success and making sure they have an opportunity to succeed,” Cangemi said.
The $10,000 grant was provided by GOOD and University of Phoenix.
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