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North Lawndale Teacher Awarded $25,000 Prize Driven by Meditation, Music

By Chloe Riley | May 23, 2014 6:23am | Updated on May 23, 2014 8:32am
 UIC College Prep music teacher Steven Sanders was awarded a $25,000 prize for his work with students.
UIC College Prep music teacher Steven Sanders was awarded a $25,000 prize for his work with students.
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c/o UIC College Prep

NORTH LAWNDALE — Before tackling Beethoven and Mozart, kids in music teacher Steven Sanders' class must first tackle "the grind."

"First we have to grind it out, we have to learn to play our musical instruments," the 27-year old Sanders said. "Because it’s not easy. Kids walk out of my room very spent."

On Monday, Sanders — a fifth-year music teacher at UIC College Prep — was awarded the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice, a $25,000 prize given to four teachers who work in high-poverty public schools across the United States.

Chloe Riley reveals the 27-year-old teacher's secret for teaching kids to appreciate music:

Sanders, the first music teacher to win the award, said Thursday he was "humbled and honored."

"I was very, very excited and very shocked really. I felt privileged," said Sanders, who first got into music when his mom signed him up for drum lessons as a kid.

He ultimately went on to study at Chicago's VanderCook College of Music, after which he immediately landed a job at UIC College Prep, a charter school in North Lawndale with a high percentage of minority, low-income students.

Sanders estimated close to 90 percent of his freshmen have little understanding of classical music. Many, he said, have never even held an instrument.

'It’s been an uphill battle, but [the music program] is really starting to get into the fabric of the school. My message is that music is for everyone. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, it doesn’t matter where you come from. There's a correct way to play music and a correct way to engage in it," Sanders said.

He also practices meditation in his classroom. Each time the kids come back from a long break or weekend, Sanders said they sit and clear their minds in preparation for class.

"I tell my students there's no such thing as cheating, no such thing as an individual. If you're here, if you're in the room, we need you. We need your mind, we need your heart, we need your effort. We learn from each other with the mistakes that we make and we learn from our victories," he said.