PITTSFIELD — Hannah Wardwell remembers middle school as a tough time.
One thing that helped her get through a period in which she was bullied by other students was the help of her music teacher, Marisa Weinstein, said the 17-year-old who is now a junior at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield.
Wardwell, who also lives in Pittsfield, said her former teacher “really connects with her students. She is a mentor who is there to help.”
On Tuesday, Weinstein was presented with the Maine Music Educators Association Educator of the Year award at a surprise assembly at Warsaw Middle School, where she has taught music for the past 23 years. The award is given annually to an outstanding primary or secondary music teacher in the state by the Maine Music Educators Association.
Principal Kristin Gilbert presented the award to Weinstein following an assembly in the school’s auditorium, where students gathered as Gilbert began to describe their music teacher.
“She is someone who takes on responsibilities, demonstrates integrity daily and has a great sense of community,” said Gilbert. She said Weinstein was nominated for the award in January because of her consistent abillity to produce students who have been selected for district and state music competitions.
“She has always had students selected who go on to win medals. In the last 20 years it has been a positive and strong showing,” said Gilbert. She said that in the past the school has had teachers nominated for the award but Weinstein is the first to win it.
Warsaw Middle School is part of the Pittsfield-based School Administrative District 53, which also includes the towns of Burnham and Detroit.
On Tuesday, students at the fifth- through eighth-grade school erupted in applause and gave a standing ovation for Weinstein, who teaches chorus, band, fifth- and sixth-grade music class and instrumental lessons.
Both former and current students of Weinstein’s said she is a teacher who is also able to connect with students on a personal level.
Nicole Peters, 16, of Burnham, said that she began playing saxophone and oboe with Weinstein and that seven years later she is still playing the saxophone.
“She really has a passion that makes you want to play an instrument,” she said.
Salycia Bush, 12, of Canaan, is a sixth-grader at the school and said she appreciates having a teacher who keeps her word to students and encourages everyone, whether they appear talented or not, to participate in music.
“If she says you are going to sing in the chorus, you are going to sing,” said Bush.
Gilbert said that most of the students participate in the school’s music program, but even those who do not participate recognize Weinstein’s positive presence.
Ava Cane, 11, said that when she tried playing flute for the band but didn’t like it, Weinstein told her it was OK.
“She didn’t force me to do it and said it was OK if it wasn’t for me,” she said.
At the same time, Gilbert said that Weinstein has a record of holding her students to a standard of excellence.
“She has high expectations. Students know that they have to perform or do it again,” she said.
Weinstein also coaches basketball, softball and soccer at the school and often stays after practice to give extra help to students that play instruments.
Gilbert said it’s not uncommon to see her in her classroom at 6 p.m. or during holidays and summer break.
In the rare moment when she’s not at school, Weinstein, who lives in Hartland, is a freelance percussionist who performs at the University of Maine at Farmington and Colby College. She is also currently performing in “Spamalot” at the Waterville Opera House.
She said she loves music and children and being part of a community that is appreciative of the arts.
“We couldn’t have a quality music program because of just me. It’s because we have a supportive administration and staff,” she said.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368