All of us have been touched by a teacher at some point in our lives. Perhaps she changed our way of thinking or acting or maybe he encouraged us to take risks. Teachers are dedicated individuals that make education happen and can be the most influential role model for developing students. A great teacher can change a student’s life. Music education programs offer students an outlet for expression, encourage cognitive processes and provide students with a strong sense of self-worth. Music teachers and band directors are the dedicated individuals who make music education happen.
Barry Skolnik, a Highland Park resident, was the band director at Proviso East High School in Maywood, Illinois from 1979 to 1982. Since 1979 he has been a trumpet player with Northshore Concert Band, a symphonic ensemble whose mission is to assist in the music education of young people by demonstrating to younger musicians that there are opportunities for them to play and enjoy their instruments their entire lives, regardless of whether they choose a musical vocation. Recently Mr. Skolnik was contacted by a former student. He had these thoughts on life, looking back and the impact that teachers have on the lives of their students.
“We go through life hoping to make a difference or have an impact. As you grow older, you realize that this is a lifelong process. I was a high school band director – seems like a lifetime ago. I absolutely remember some of the students, for various reasons. There was a girl who worked hard and excelled at music, and was having her third child during her junior year. There was a boy who played tuba – they called him “cookie monster”. He had a heart of gold until his young life was cut short when he was hit by a car on the expressway while he stopped to help a stranger fix a flat tire.
And then there were 450 other students whose memories blend together. They came in and out of the band room – some for the love of music, others because they needed an elective for credit – and everything in between.
Fast forward 35 years. I received a Facebook Message from a name I did not immediately recognize. Typically I ignore these but for some reason, I accepted this request. What followed stunned me and truly changed my life. The sender was one of those 450 students, asking if I was his teacher in the early 80’s. The conversation was relatively short but the impact on me was profound. “
Student: Any chance that you are the Barry Skolnik who taught music at Proviso East High School in the early 80s?
Barry Skolnik: Yes I am
Student: Do you happen to remember me at all? I was a student of yours from 1979-1983 and played trombone for the most part
Barry Skolnik: I actually do (I think). Do you still play?
Student: I actually haven’t played in about 15 years. I know you had plenty of students and that it has been more than 30 years ago but I have always wanted to say something to you and I hope you allow me the opportunity to do so…..
Barry Skolnik: Sure.
Student: I’d like to say THANK YOU for believing in me back then. I was the victim of abuse at home and at school and I did not have a lot of good feelings about myself. I was very overweight and tried almost too hard to be accepted. But being your student was an escape from all that. You allowed me to be in pretty much all the bands you could and that kept me from going to a very dark place. You have no way of knowing this, but you doing that saved my life. And now I am a father of 2 and have been happily married for 25 years. I continue to study psychology in college and my goal is to help others who were in my position. Mr Skolnik, you saved my life by being my mentor and in turn, my friend. And though you may not remember me, I will always remember you.
Barry Skolnik: That is very kind of you and although I haven’t taught in years, it is good to have a positive effect on people and it sounds like you have dedicated yourself to doing the same.
Student: I have. It’s been my goal for years to pay it forward. It felt so good to finally be able to tell you thank you after all these years! I know your years at Proviso were met with its challenges but never doubt that you had an impact. Do you still play trumpet?
Barry Skolnik: I do. I have been in the Northshore Concert Band for 36 years now.
Student: Wow, that’s wonderful! You were with the band back then!
I wish I had a pic of myself from those years ago to show you and hopefully jog your memory lol.
Barry Skolnik: Ha. Sometimes I don’t remember breakfast but thank you for taking the time to contact me.
Student: Lol you’re very welcome! Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you!
Barry Skolnik: My pleasure. I wish you much continued success. And keep making a difference
Student: Thank you, Sir!
“We interface with tens of thousands of people in our lifetime – we never know who we have impacted or to what degree or in what way….you just never know!”
Learn more about the Northshore Concert Band at www.northshoreband.org
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