The Kennedy Center has announced the 2019 recipients of the Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards, a series of grants that recognize American teachers by showcasing the impact they have on their students. The six 2019 recipients are David Goldberg of Silver Spring, Maryland; Jennifer Jimenez of Miami, Florida; Matthew Schott of O’Fallon, Missouri; Beth Strege of Schaumburg, Illinois; Olga Torres of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Nancy Vitulli of Cranston, Rhode Island.
Teachers are nominated for the honor by students and former students, who submit essays detailing the teacher's impact.
"As a nervous freshman riddled by social anxiety, I still never believed I had a voice worthy of a spot on that sacred stage," writes Michael Pisaturo of 2019 honoree Vitulli. "I explained to [Vitulli] how I had managed to convince myself that no one truly wanted to hear what I had to say. She paused for a moment, looking at me through her signature tortoiseshell glasses. 'Well, we want to hear you.'"
Created in honor of composer-lyricist Sondheim's 80th birthday in 2010, the awards were initiated and funded through the support of Myrna and Freddie Gershon. Since the awards' inception, 81, totaling $810,000, have been presented. The award is not aimed solely at arts educators, having awarded educators representing fields such as physical education, religious studies, music, English, and physics. Honorees have included librarians, coaches, principals, and college professors working in public and private schools as well as correctional institutions nationwide.
The award is inspired by Sondheim's affection for teachers. “Teachers define us,” the composer shared. “In our early years, when we are still being formed, they often see in us more than we see in ourselves, more even than our families see and, as a result, help us to evolve into what we ultimately become. Good teachers are touchstones to paths of achieving more than we might have otherwise accomplished, in directions we might not have gone.”