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Listen to the sound of 'Excellence in Music Education'

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

A Buffalo Public School music teacher was recently honored by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Donna Kerr, who teachers at City Honors, was recognized for "Excellence in Music Education." The Buffalo School Board also honored Kerr Wednesday for her work. WBFO's Focus on Education reporter Eileen Buckley takes us inside Kerr's classroom, where she is an inspiration to her students.

City Honors music students were eager to begin their band lesson under Kerr's direction. As they entered the classroom many immediately picked up their instruments and began to warm up. In the corner, three students jammed together and a four student jumped in on the drums. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
City Honors music students jam before class.

The students are proud of their teacher and how she has formed their music knowledge.

"She's really a great teacher. She really takes time for all the individual learning," said Joshua Ruszala, a City Honors sophomore. He plays percussion and says Kerr is easy to talk to.

"She really is just very kind. I've had teachers in the past that get angry or frustrated," said Ruszala.

Benjamin Spencer is a junior who has played stand-up and electric bass since the 4th grade. Kerr's influence opened up his musical taste.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Donna Kerr directing students through their class.

"Mrs. Kerr really opened my mind with Jazz band," said Spencer. "I really discovered the genre of jazz and how bass is important for that and how to be part of a solid rhythm section. I've really had such a good experience learning new genres and learning new techniques with Mrs. Kerr."

Students tell WBFO News Kerr works to keep them focused.  

"It's really amazing to work together with such a cool group of people to make something as amazing as music," said Kianna Pierson, a junior who has been playing clarinet since 4th grade. 

Pierson and Spencer describe's Kerr's leadership and work with the school band as "a family."

"Especially being a high schooler at City Honors, it's really stressful and music is, at least for me, a way to unwind and really relax," said Pierson.   

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
City Honor music students in their class session with Donna Kerr directing.

"You sort of all come together with Mrs. Kerr.  We call her the band mom.  She helps us with anything," stated Spencer.
Kathy Bethel, the Buffalo School district's acting music supervisor, appeared at City Honors during the band class. 

"She's a musician's musician,"said Bethel. 

Bethel praised the work of Kerr and her students.

"It does make me very proud and it really makes me hopeful being a product of the school district myself," said Bethel. 

Kerr is product of the Buffalo Schools. She graduated from the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts and has been teaching at City Honors for the last 11 years.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Members of the City Honors band during class with Donna Kerr.

"I feel I've been very fortunate though whereever I've gone in the Buffalo Public schools," said Kerr. "I've tried to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere for all of the kids to be able to perform.

Kerr teachers about 150 students in her band program. She says she is humbled and honored by her recent BPO award and support from the district and students. 

"I am fortunate to have a very supportive administration and supportive staff here who are into music and are here to support the kids, parents who support the kids," said Kerr.

City Honors, a criteria school, has consistently performed well academically and with its music program, though some feel the school is given too much attention. But Kerr, who has taught at other city schools, recognizes the hard work of all the city's music teachers.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
City Honors music students in Donna Kerr's class.

"Because there are many good schools that have great music programs in the city, but I would like to see that consistently throughout the district for all of my colleagues so that they all feel as fortunate and as able to produce music. Many of them are under very difficult circumstances, and I applaud them for what they're doing with the kids, because they're really helping to bring a positive aspect to their students lives," said Kerr.

As Bethel continues in her acting role, it's her hope the district will be able to expand music education for all city students.

"It's here -- it's all here we just need to show people. I don't think enough people know," stated Bethel.  

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
City Honor music students in their class session with Donna Kerr directing.

WBFO News asked Bethel how the district could duplicate the successful music program at City Honors at other struggling city schools.

"Focus on how music education is foundational to all education," said Kerr. 

Educators say music not only enhances a child's life, but offers proven support to their academics 

"It's definitely helped me in math because a lot of music is math and counting," said student Ruszala.

The City Honors band proudly showcased their work from this past school year, clearly displaying why Kerr was recognized for "Excellence in Music Education."