Jennifer Collins of Wakefield, RI, Named Recipient of the 2020 George N. Parks Award from the National Association for Music Education and Music for All

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“Jennifer Collins believes that through music, students can grow on a personal and ensemble level. When one of her students finds something new to be hard, she reminds them that they can do hard things.”

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) announced that Jennifer Collins, Director of Bands at Broad Rock Middle School in Wakefield, Rhode Island, is the recipient of the 2020 George N. Parks Award for Leadership in Music Education. Collins accepted the award during a virtual Music for All event on November 14, 2020.

The George N. Parks Award honors an exemplary music educator who embodies the characteristics and leadership that Mr. Parks showed his students every day. The recipient must have a collaborative spirit, dedication to knowing the students as people, perseverance and enthusiasm, and an ability to instill qualities in students beyond musical achievement.

“Thirty years ago in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, this band director grew the music programs in her community from small 13-member ensembles to 80 percent of the student population being enrolled in a music ensemble class,” said Christopher B. Woodside, NAfME interim executive director, during the virtual award ceremony. “She believes that through music, students can grow on a personal and ensemble level. When one of her students finds something new to be hard, she reminds them that they can do hard things. Her words empower the students to work harder and challenge themselves. She believes this will lead her students to grow into healthy, well-balanced adults.”

“To my music students, past and present, thank you. Your zeal for music—and in this past year, the way that you keep playing even while home-bound—inspires me,” shared Jennifer Collins. “The joy and connection we’ve found in music lasts a lifetime.” In her remarks, Collins thanked her children and family, teacher friends, and administrators for their support.

“Our challenge as music teachers today is to dig deep and ask, ‘What are the barriers that prevent students from playing in our ensembles?’ We need to take those barriers down. . . . And to our audiences: We are still here! We are still playing. We are finding some unorthodox ways to rehearse, but we are rehearsing. And we miss you. When we’re through this, please come back to hear us play live for you. . . . Help live music rise out of the pandemic ashes like a phoenix.”

“Jenny does an incredible job instilling in students two of her own defining qualities: empathy and community,” shared Eric Drew, Director of Bands at Curtis Corner Middle School in Wakefield, Rhode Island, who nominated Collins. “With all of her students and all of her classes, she models a commitment to think about what others are going through and the challenges that they overcome just to show up. In everyday conversations and in-class interactions, she has a unique way of validating their experiences and helping them identify their shared humanity through music.”

Talking about her work as a mentor to newer teachers, Drew continued, “She will always make herself available to act as a sounding board for younger teachers and teachers with different ideas. She gives respectful feedback and is never afraid to agree or disagree in ways that always foster learning and growth for both herself and her colleagues.”

Fritz Benz, Director of Instrumental Music at South Kingstown High School, echoed this admiration. Her “work coordinating and running the Music Mentoring Project with the University of Rhode Island (URI) is of a particular importance to our community,” said Benz. “This project pairs South Kingstown children with URI students for private and small group lessons to make music accessible to ALL kids in South Kingstown, while providing valuable teaching experiences to the instructors from URI.”

“Over my 20 years being a colleague of Jennifer Collins, I have been astounded by her continual effort to go above and beyond for her students,” added Christine E. Pierce, music teacher at Peace Dale and Wakefield Elementary Schools. “Jenny genuinely strives to share the wonder of creating music with her students every day.”

Collins also persevered through school closures. Pierce continued, “This year, in response to limitations due to the pandemic, Jenny continues to provide beginning band instruction to any student through after-school ZOOM instruction. Students know, as they are completing 4th grade, that grade five is the year that they may choose to play a band instrument. Students were very excited about this opportunity last spring, and parents expressed the hope that beginning band would still be an option this year. True to form, Jenny contacted families and made sure that any child wanting to participate would have that opportunity.”

Moreover, Collins has been active in her advocacy for funding and provision of music education for students in her district. “She began her career by lobbying for increased music instruction for elementary students in South Kingstown,” Drew added. “She saw a need and presented a solution that enriched the lives of many students. . . . Through several rounds of [the budget] cycle, Jenny has always been positive and pragmatic while advocating (usually successfully) to maintain and increase the time and resources available to provide quality music education to students.”

Developed by NAfME and Music for All, the award is named for George N. Parks (1953–2010), director of the University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band at the University of Massachusetts Amherst from 1977 until his death. Considered a national authority on drum majoring, he led the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy®, a summer workshop program for high school drum majors. View past recipients here.

National Association for Music Education, among the world’s largest arts education organizations, is the only association that addresses all aspects of music education. NAfME advocates at the local, state, and national levels; provides resources for teachers, parents, and administrators; hosts professional development events; and offers a variety of opportunities for students and teachers. The Association has supported music educators at all teaching levels for more than a century. With more than 60,000 members teaching millions of students nationwide, the organization is the national voice of music education in the United States.

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