Grammy-nominated Vt. teacher: 'I love what I do'

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December 25, 2013, 10:05 pm
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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Westminster, Vt.) - Lisa Bianconi, the director of the music program at Kurn Hattin Homes for Children in Westminster, Vt., will learn next month if she wins a coveted Grammy Award. In January, the Recording Academy and Grammy Foundation will award their first-ever statuette to a music educator.

More than 30,000 nominations came in from all over the country. After several rounds of essays and videos for review panels, Bianconi recently learned she is a top 10 finalist. "I'm in absolute shock," Bianconi told New England Cable News. "This nomination has been a gift to all of us."

Kurn Hattin is a private residential school that is funded by charitable donations. Many of its students, aged 6-15, have struggled with homelessness, truancy, abuse, neglect, or other challenges.

"My life back home was pretty rough," said Dan Greenspan, 13.  "At school, I didn't care."

Greenspan and his teachers said he was orphaned as a baby, abandoned on the streets of Ethiopia. A big family in western Massachusetts adopted him, but the 13-year-old told NECN he was a handful. He said he never quite fit in anywhere.

"My mom was like, 'I can't take it any more: you're failing in math, you're failing in reading. You're failing, you're failing, you're failing,'" Greenspan remembered. "And I was like, 'What do you want me to do about it? I don't care.'"

Greenspan said his time at Kurn Hattin has benefitted him greatly, because he's around kids like him, where he doesn't get picked on, and where attentive educators make him feel welcome. "I'm getting better in life," Greenspan said. "I'm going to be on the honor rolls."

Mrs. Bianconi has been a big part of that transformation, Greenspan said.

"There's a lot of kids that come here who haven't even experienced music at all," Bianconi noted. "I expect a lot from them because I know they can do it."

Bianconi said many of her students have been told their whole lives that they can't accomplish goals or have been made to feel worthless. "I believe in them," Bianconi said. "I love what I do. Every day. I really do."

Now, the students, or "angels," as Bianconi calls them, believe their teacher will win the Grammy. "I think she should book that flight right now," Greenspan said.

Several Kurn Hattin kids told NECN they think the Grammy panels were probably impressed that their teacher is like a mother, sometimes tough, but always patient and encouraging. "I used to not talk very much, now I talk a lot," said student Shandae Cruz, 12, describing how Mrs. Bianconi helped her become more social.

Bianconi said she tries to embrace creative ways to help disadvantaged kids learn. One way is to study and recite song lyrics as an approachable way to bring students who are behind in their reading skills up to speed, Bianconi said. "It's just finding what works," Bianconi said. "If I do lyrics, I type huge fonts so they can read it phonetically much more quickly."

School administrator Connie Sanderson, who submitted the initial Grammy nomination for Bianconi, said music is often the ideal way to reach at-risk kids, because many of them lack self confidence. "They get to move away from their sad story," Sanderson said.

Sanderson said having a stage and an audience applauding after several dozen performances a year is a big boost to a young person's self-confidence and growth. "Children will grow up, they will leave here, and hopefully move on to live happy, productive lives," Sanderson said.

The charity has a trophy case with a space waiting for that Grammy, but Mrs. Bianconi insisted just being at Kurn Hattin with her "angels" is a prize. "I do feel like a winner," Bianconi said, smiling.

Click here for more information on Kurn Hattin Homes for Children.

Tags: vermont, Westminster, Grammy Awards, Jack Thurston, Lisa Bianconi, Recording Academy and Grammy Foundation, Kurn Hattin Homes for Children
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