Eric Sokolowski knows firsthand that great teachers can completely change the trajectory of students’ lives. When he was in high school, his band instructor recognized his musical talent and assigned him to teach fundamentals to younger students. That assignment uncovered another talent — teaching — and the instructor encouraged Sokolowski to study music education in college.
“I want to be that type of teacher, who can really make a difference in students’ lives,” said Sokolowski, who now serves as Model Laboratory School’s band director.
Sokolowski was recently recognized for his efforts by his colleagues in the Kentucky Music Educators Association, the nonprofit professional organization that upholds music teaching standards in the commonwealth. He was recently voted high school teacher of the year for KMEA District 11, which comprises 12 Kentucky counties.
“It’s a great honor to be recognized by my colleagues in the district and KMEA, but I feel I didn't win the award,” he said. “The students in my class did all the work. They play the pieces and put in the hours. I just got the credit.”
A native of Harlan County, Kentucky, Sokolowski holds a music education degree from Cumberland College and a master’s in music performance from EKU. He has taught instrumental music to fourth- through 12th-grade students at Model since 2015.
Sokolowski received his award at the 2019 KMEA Conference in Louisville on Feb. 8 at a meeting of District 11 representatives. The district includes Madison, Estill, Powell, Wolfe, Lee, Owsley, Jackson, Rockcastle, Lincoln, Garrard, Boyle and Mercer counties. Voting members include vocal and instrumental music educators.
Model Laboratory School consistently ranks in the top 10 schools statewide in multiple education categories, and music is an important part of the school's curriculum. Beyond its artistic value, music provides a wealth of opportunity for students and teaches them skills that translate well into the real world, Sokolowski said.
“It’s a vehicle to teach kids how to work,” he said. “In band, perfect doesn’t exist, but you practice, you develop your skills and you try to get as close to perfect as possible. That type of work ethic can transfer to other disciplines, and it builds the ability to work as a team to create something great.”