For Cherry View music teacher Mary Zilge, music is an opportunity to bring everyone together and to make them feel welcome and included.
“Everyone has a place at the table when they come here,” Zilge said of her class, where enthusiasm and willingness to learn are more important than natural talent.
From bringing in music from across the country and around the world to making sure all students have chances to participate, Zilge makes all students feel included.
That’s one of the many reasons the veteran music teacher was among 11 educators, who were chosen as finalists for the Minnesota Teacher of the Year Award. Sponsored by Education Minnesota, the awards recognize educators who have gone above and beyond in serving students, their districts and the field of education.
To say education is in the veteran Cherry View music teacher’s blood may be an understatement: Zilge’s father taught English, writing, and humanities at Burnsville Eagan Savage schools for many years and was the 1971 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. Zilge credits her father’s use of music, literature, and movie archetypes for generating interest in both education and in music.
Zilge said she started her career at a school in Texas but felt fortunate to come back home to the Lakeville area. A two-year teaching opportunity in Ecuador and an exchange trip funded by a mini Fulbright program in Japan broadened her worldview and gave her deeper appreciation for seeing things from others’ perspectives – including how to make everyone feel welcome.
For Zilge, including world music as part of the curriculum is all about helping students’ see themselves and others connecting with the district’s mission.
But Zilge’s passion extends well beyond music and where it can bring people together.
“If I were to win, I’d be so excited to have a platform to talk about kids’ mental health,” Zilge said. In 26 years of teaching, Zilge said she has seen the need for providing students with support grow at a time when school districts’ are becoming more and more strapped.
Zilge said 50 percent of her class involves movement, which helps teach concepts like rhythm, but also gives students needed chances to be themselves.
“It’s built into who we are as people,” Zilge said, adding that drumming is among her students’ favorite activities.
For some students, music class is a chance to shine when other subjects come harder. That’s especially true for students who may have special needs.
“I love when parents come to the concerts and say, ‘my kid did that just like everyone else did,” Zilge said.
The awards were presented May 7 at Radisson Blu hotel at the Mall of America. Corey Bullman, a language arts educator at Mound Westonka High School, was chosen as the 2017 Minnesota Teacher of the Year.
This is the second year Lakeville has had a teacher among the finalists. Kim Jirik, speech and language pathologist with the Early Childhood Education program, was a finalist in 2016.