Basalt teacher up for Grammy in the Schools award | AspenTimes.com

Basalt teacher up for Grammy in the Schools award

Will Grandbois
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Basalt Middle School band director Nick Lenio is one of just two Colorado teachers who made the quarterfinals cut for Grammy in the Schools Music Educator of the Year.

The award, which is presented by The Recording Academy and the GRAMMY Foundation, recognizes educators who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrate a commitment to maintaining music education in the schools. With more than 3,000 initial nominations narrowed down to just 290 music teachers around the country, getting this far is an accomplishment unto itself.

"I think it's an awesome honor," Lenio said. "The kids are psyched, too."

"It's all about our community," he added. "We have so much support and kids that bring a lot of energy, so it's just my job to harness it."

The announcement caps an exciting year for the Basalt band program, which at the middle school has a student participation level of over 50 percent. Most school bands average around 20 percent participation rates or less. Recently, 12 Basalt Middle School students were selected for the regional honor band, four of whom received first-place honors as the most advanced student on their instrument in Northwestern Colorado.

"I think the numbers speak for themselves," Lenio said. "I have more than 250 students in band."

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"To have a program function as a team — or better yet as a family — is for everyone to have a clear picture of why they're doing it. I think we have that," he added. "These kids have something to offer to the community. They give a part of themselves, and I think it's pretty contagious."

Lenio spends his lunch breaks in the band room helping kids who want a little more practice or are working on higher grade-level music through his Play it Forward program.

"Everybody learns at a different speed," he said. "Play it Forward is an opportunity for kids who want to take on a bit more and challenge themselves. If they're hungry, it keeps feeding them."

Even for those who choose to dabble, he thinks the experience is valuable.

"It's an expression without words, which I think is great for a lot of people. I know it's good for me," he said. "It has to be a cooperative effort, and it really teaches kids about discipline and practice. A lot of great things in life take time."

Basalt Middle School Principal Jennifer Ellsperman agrees.

"There are some schools that get rid of these courses, and to me, if you want to improve your core classes, you should have a really strong specials program," she said. "I think one of the things kids look forward to in middle school is playing an instrument. It's a place where students can really shine and build confidence, and over time it impacts their other classes."

As for Lenio, she has no doubt that he's worthy of the award.

"He's passionate about what he does and he gets the kids passionate," she said. "He takes the beginners all the way up to the super talented kids and supports them and helps them grow."

Lenio now will submit a series of videos highlighting his work at Basalt Middle School and Basalt High School. Semifinalists will be announced in September, and the overall winner will get to attend the 2017 Grammy Awards.