Good news in the district

Cayuga Elementary music director Celina Valez was named to Yamaha Music’s inaugural 40 Under 40 list. — Photo courtesy of School District of Philadelphia

Cayuga Elementary’s music director named to ‘40 Under 40’ list

Cayuga Elementary School’s music director Celina Velez was named a top music educator on the Yamaha Music USA inaugural 40 Under 40 list. Velez was selected from 450 nominees across the country.

As the music director at Cayuga Elementary School, Velez uses singing, movement and rhythm exercises to open the door for students to play instruments.

“Singing through exercise and swaying/dancing to the rhythm of a song before playing it are critical to helping students internalize the music,” Velez said. “The more senses we use to learn something, the better the students will retain it. My students love stepping to different rhythms and challenging each other or me to a ‘rhythm-off.’”

She also brings guest artists and ensembles to her class and prepares her students to play alongside them.

“It’s so nerve-wracking! I create mini-performance opportunities like lunch hour café shows to get the nerves out,” Velez said. “I use performance buddies — pairing a younger student with an older student for mentorship — to help keep each one accountable at concert time with instruments, costumes and other equipment.”

In addition to her work at Cayuga, Velez also is a founding member of the North Philadelphia Art Teacher’s Alliance, which brings together K-12 students from area public, private and charter schools.

“While schools train students and help them grow as artists, NPATA provides additional performance opportunities for participating schools by hosting collaborative concerts, festivals and art shows,” Velez said.

The 40 Under 40 music education advocacy program was established by Yamaha to celebrate music educators at all grade levels, public and private, as well as private music instructors, selected from hundreds of music education leaders nominated by students, parents, other teachers or administrators, local instrument dealers and mentors last fall.

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