2019 Central Middle Teacher of the Year

Middle School Music Teacher Amber Underwood

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Amber Underwood
Central Middle School
Seventh & Eighth Grade Music/Band

How are you working to increase equity in education and opportunity for students in your school?
As of 2018, I have been on the ground floor partnering with musicians in the community to build a mentoring program for underserved youth in Kansas City’s urban core. Future Jazz KC is a non-profit dedicated to music/jazz education. Being involved with this project has contributed to increasing equity in education by using music to transform lives and give kids an outlet for self-expression, life skills and work ethic. In addition, I have been involved with the beginning initiative starting the band/orchestra programs at the middle school level here in the district. I was the face and person for instrumental music at Northeast Middle and Central Middle School when both schools opened in 2014. I worked endlessly to provide what was needed and serve as an instructor to my administration and coworkers to build the necessary program and legacy each building needed to have a successful start. Although I had my trials and tribulations at the beginning with having no instruments or music, I always saw the bigger picture and to make sure that these kids received quality music education. Looking back now I can say that I have had a tremendous impact not only with my students but the moral and developing a tradition of music at my school. Music definitely brings a school and community together and builds equity in students that will carry on year to year.

What message about public education do you want to share?
Mental health and awareness not only affects our students but teachers, administrators, parents and the community. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that one in five people live with some sort of mental disorder or disease. Despite the fact that the average age of early signs of mental illness is 14, most individuals don’t seek help until adulthood. Underlining the seriousness is the fact that 60 percent of high school students with mental illness don’t graduate. As educators we are often the first line of defense for students. Education professionals have recognized the impact that a student’s mental health has on learning and achievement, and they realize that there’s a great deal that can be done to help students with mental health issues. Every day I check in on my students and observe how each and everyone is doing when they enter my band room because I know that if their basic needs are not met and mental health is not in tack that learning will not happen. This is very important to me because to be able to be powerful and confident in what you do in the classroom you have to have a powerful and strong mind. I feel that I’m leading in the classroom by addressing the needs of my students and building relationships with not only my students but with their families. I lead by showing my students that I’m good in my own mental health so I can be the best teacher possible for them. I lead in the classroom by being honest about how I’m feeling and teaching empathy for others. Lastly, I lead in the classroom by using music to heal the soul.

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