She isn’t a household name like Bieber or Shania or Drake, but Janell Toews is well-loved and admired by her music students at Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy in Canmore who now shares something in common with all those Canadian music superstars.
“It was really Ms. Toews that kind of brought that inner musician out and through that she was able to help me kind of guide my path through the school,” said Sam Armstrong, grade 12 student. “So she really helped me mature and grow as an individual through music and through personal life as well.”
“I think she’s just a really empowering woman,” said grade 12 student Avey Herlihy, “We just like love coming to band class, it’s everyone’s favorite class to take, yeah it’s just a lot of fun.”
Toews is up for the MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award that will be given out at the Juno Awards on May 15th in Toronto. The award is presented by the Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation and each year it recognizes an inspirational Canadian music educator’s impact on students and music education.
“I just feel really honoured to be to be part of this,” said Toews. “I’m super excited that I’m one of the five finalists.”
PLAYED THROUGH PANDEMIC
Toews has been teaching music at the school for the last 12 years and was successful in keeping the majority of her band students playing right through the pandemic.
“Our school board bought thousands of dollars worth of bell covers and flute covers so that the kids could still participate and that was huge,” she said. “I think that’s another part of the award too is that they were looking for finalists this year that were able to help students to have access to music even during COVID.”
She was nominated by her long time teaching friend Kendra Silk who is a fine arts teacher at the school.
“She applies for grants in her spare time in the middle of the summer,” said Silk. “When we’re all out mountain biking I’ll get a phone call from her, she’s thrilled because she’s found a new song. We teach in a K through 12 school so she can really sense the energy of the group that’s coming up and she tailors her program to them, versus making them tailor to her style.”
Toews says her priority is always the students and she’s energetic about teaching them and watching them learn and grow.
“It’s something that is so important for their self confidence and definitely looking at mental health these days and how, especially with kids, it’s a struggle,” said Toews. “So giving them a safe place where they can actually be in a group making something together because for so long, they couldn’t play group sports, they were very isolated so I’m just so excited to be able to bring them music where they can be part of something.”
Toews says she’s one of five nominees and will be at the awards show on May 15th to see if she won. But some of her students like her chances.
“The grade sevens are already looking for a place in the room where a Juno could go and I’m just like, hold on, I haven’t won anything, I’m just a nominee,” she said.
Learn more about the Teacher of the Year award here: www.musicounts.ca
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