State awards recognize local educators and school districts for their commitment to music

Two county schools have received awards from the Maine Music Educators Association that recognize their efforts to support and sustain district-wide music programs.

ASHLAND and PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – Two county schools have received awards from the Maine Music Educators Association that recognize their efforts to support and sustain district-wide music programs.

On May 19, Jon Simonoff of SAD 32 received the Outstanding Music Educator Award, while Ashland Community School Principal Joel Hall was named Outstanding Administrator. SAD 1’s music department received the Dale F. Huff Outstanding Music Program Award.

Principal of Ashland Community School, Joel Hall (pictured here in June 2020) has been named an Outstanding Trustee by the Maine Music Educators Association. (Courtesy of Michelle Fournier)

Presque Isle Music Teachers (L to R) Molly and Jason Priest, Pat Bragdon and Jenna Simonoff pose with their Maine Music Educators Association Award alongside SAD 1 Superintendent Ben Greenlaw. (Photo added | Pat Bragdon)

The latest award is given to a music department “to honor a thriving K-12 music and performing arts program in the state of Maine” in memory of educator Millinocket Dale Huff, according to the website of the MMEA. Huff was known to have helped form and maintain a district-wide music program for the Millinocket School Department.

Pat Bragdon, chair of SAD 1’s music department, said the award is a testament to the work his colleagues have put into the program and the district’s overall support for the arts programs.

At SAD 1, all primary school students take general music lessons and participate in the fifth grade choir. The district also offers college and high school orchestras and choirs and high school piano and guitar lessons. Besides Bragdon, the music department includes Jason and Molly Priest and Jenna Simonoff.

“It’s important that kids have a background in music before they get to middle school and high school,” Bragdon said. “They can grow faster in the group or the choir if they already know how to read music.”

During his 19 years as an educator for SAD 1, Bragdon has seen the social and emotional impact that a loud music program can have on students.

“For many children, music is their way of relieving the stress in their lives. It makes them happy, ”Bragdon said. “Parents have told us: ‘My child graduated from school because of the music’ or ‘They came to school because of the music’.”

Presque Isle Middle School students Carlee Wood (far left), Addison Hafford and Calie Ellis participate in orchestral practice. (Photo added | Pat Bragdon)

Jon Simonoff (left) and Joel Hall perform together at a recent Star City Syndicate concert. Simonoff, a music teacher at Ashland, and Hall, principal of the Ashland Community School, have won awards from the Maine Music Educators Association. (Courtesy of Joel Hall)

For Ashland educators Jon Simonoff and Joel Hall, each of their awards represents a commitment to music education that began in the 1960s with Joel’s father, Larry Hall. Larry Hall has been instrumental in the development of Ashland’s district-wide music program. Today, students have access to music lessons from pre-kindergarten to their final year.

Thanks to his father’s influence, said Joel Hall, music has become an important part of his life as a local artist, educator and now as a director. He sees the awards as a symbol of the district’s commitment to music even before he became an administrator.

“When the news first broke, there were people who graduated 30 or 40 years ago sharing the messages. They didn’t know us, but they knew the program, ”said Joel Hall.

In addition to being educators, Jon Simonoff and Joel Hall are also group members of local groups Star City Syndicate, Too Far North and Reverend Funk and the Congregation. Jon Simonoff said that seeing their teacher and principal listening to music inside and outside of school likely helps students realize the sense of community that music can develop.

“Seeing children find their place in a set is great,” said Jon Simonoff. “Not all children are athletes [in a music group], but they all play music together. “

Many Ashland alumni have gone on to become music teachers or members of university or community groups. But no matter where they take their love of music from, noted Jon Simonoff, their school experiences can be forever changed because of it.

“For many students, music is still their outlet. It might not become their thing after school, but it is a reprieve for everything that is going on in their life, ”he said.

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