Grammy-nominated teacher using prize money to launch charity initiative
Coming off her Grammy Award nomination for being one of the top music educators in the country, a Buffalo Grove High School teacher is launching her next major initiative to spread the value of music in schools and the community.
Though Elizabeth Bennett didn't win the Grammy Music Educator Award, being named one of 10 nationwide finalists came with $1,000 in prize money and a $1,000 matching grant for the school.
Bennett, of Libertyville, the school's director of orchestras and fine arts coordinator, is using those funds to launch the "Summer Break Bach" food and music box giveaway.
This May, some 300 Buffalo Grove High School families in need will receive the boxes containing nonperishable food items and a packet of music lessons created by Bennett's students. The lessons won't require a tutor or instrument, but will instead cover a variety of basic concepts, like how to read music, how to write a melody and how to compose rap lyrics.
Bennett plans to hand out the boxes during the school's annual signup day for low-income families to obtain school fee waivers. The event is developing into a community resource day, in which local service agencies and medical and vision care providers also will be on hand.
Before they leave, families will be able to take home a Summer Break Bach box.
"Summer vacations can be fun and time off, but that's not necessarily the reality for a lot of people," Bennett said. "For students who rely on school for getting food, summer can be a really scary time. I've had this idea for a while to do something to provide some sort of nourishment, but also have music be involved.
"It's nourishment for the body and soul."
Bennett was nominated for the Grammy educator award by a former student more than a year ago. Out of 3,300 initial applications, she made it through the quarterfinals and semifinals -- all the way to the nationwide finalist round in early January.
Bennett, in her 12th year at Buffalo Grove, is behind some of the school's innovative music programming, including creation of a Music Workshop class aimed at giving more students an experience in music; launching a series that showcases different career paths in music; bringing AP Music Theory to Northwest Suburban High School District 214; and starting Buffalo Grove's annual Winter Celebration outreach to the community.
Though she wasn't the eventual winner at the Grammys on Jan. 26, she says she was honored to be named a finalist.
"It's been really, really thrilling. It really shows the value of music in our schools and in our culture. It's an honor to bring such a spotlight to that."
And in an era where budget cuts usually start with music and the arts, Bennett says it's her goal to show how important they are.
"They create our culture, our empathy, our connections," she said. "They're essential."
With the Grammy nomination, Bennett can use the funds as seed money to kick-start the Bach box initiative. And with the help of Friends of the Orchestra, a nonprofit that supports the school's music groups, she's collecting additional donations to purchase food for the boxes.
Donors can send a check to the school in care of the Friends, send an online payment through PayPal at email@example.com, or go to the Amazon wish list, amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/26509SEU4Q325, and buy items like cans of tuna, green beans and corn.
Students from the school orchestras and choirs will help assemble the packages in May.