The Star-Herald

State awards recognize local educators, school districts for commitment to music

ASHLAND and PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Two County schools have received awards from the Maine Music Educators Association that recognize their efforts to support and sustain district-wide music programs.

On May 19, SAD 32’s Jon Simonoff received the Outstanding Music Educator Award, while Ashland Community School principal Joel Hall was named Outstanding Administrator. SAD 1’s music department received the Dale F. Huff Outstanding Music Program Award.

Ashland Community School principal Joel Hall (pictured here in June 2020) was named Outstanding Administrator by the Maine Music Educators Association. (Courtesy of Michelle Fournier)

Presque Isle music teachers (from left to right) Molly and Jason Priest, Pat Bragdon and Jenna Simonoff pose with their award from the Maine Music Educators Association alongside SAD 1 superintendent Ben Greenlaw. (Contributed photo | Pat Bragdon)

The latter award is given to a music department “to honor a thriving K-12 music and performing arts program in the state of Maine” in memory of Millinocket educator Dale Huff, according to the MMEA website. Huff was known for helping to form and sustain a district-wide music program for the Millinocket School Department.

Pat Bragdon, chair of SAD 1’s music department, said that the award is a testament to the work his colleagues have put into the program, and the district’s overall support of arts programs.

At SAD 1, all elementary students take general music classes and participate in fifth grade chorus. The district also offers middle and high school bands and choruses and high school piano and guitar classes. Aside from Bragdon, the music department includes Jason and Molly Priest and Jenna Simonoff.

“It’s important for kids to have a foundation in music before they get to middle and high school,” Bragdon said. “They can move along more quickly through band or chorus if they already know how to read music.”

In his 19 years as an educator for SAD 1, Bragdon has seen the social and emotional impact that a strong music program can have on students.

“For a lot of kids, music is how they relieve stress in their lives. It makes them happy,” Bragdon said. “We’ve had parents say, ‘My kid got through school because of music’ or ‘They came to school because of music.’”

Presque Isle Middle School students Carlee Wood (far left), Addison Hafford and Calie Ellis take part in band practice. (Contributed photo | Pat Bragdon)

Jon Simonoff (left) and Joel Hall play together during a recent Star City Syndicate concert. Simonoff, a music teacher in Ashland, and Hall, principal of Ashland Community School, have won awards from the Maine Music Educators Association. (Courtesy of Joel Hall)

For Ashland educators Jon Simonoff and Joel Hall, each of their awards represent a commitment to music education that started in the 1960s with Joel’s father, Larry Hall. Larry Hall was influential in developing Ashland’s music program district-wide. Today, students have access to music classes from pre-K to their senior year.

Thanks to his father’s influence, Joel Hall said, music became an important part of his life as a local performer, educator and now as a principal. He views the awards as symbolic of the district’s commitment to music even before his time as an administrator.

“When the news was announced, there were people who graduated 30 or 40 years ago that shared the posts. They didn’t know us, but they knew the program,” Joel Hall said.

Aside from being educators, Jon Simonoff and Joel Hall also are bandmates in local groups Star City Syndicate, Too Far North and Reverend Funk and the Congregation. Jon Simonoff said that seeing their teacher and principal enjoy music inside and outside the school likely helps students realize the sense of community that music can develop.

“Seeing kids find their place within an ensemble is great,” Jon Simonoff said. “Not every kid is an athlete [in a music group], but they all play music together.”

Many former Ashland students have become music teachers or members of college or community bands. But regardless of where they take their love of music, Jon Simonoff noted, their school experiences can be forever changed because of it.

“For many students, music is still their outlet. It might not become their thing after school, but it’s a reprieve from whatever else is happening in their lives,” he said.

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