Creative Community Engagement Awards presented to SDUSD Staff

Posted: Friday, April 12th 2019


Mira Mesa High School orchestra teacher Matt Mulvaney receives his award from Board of Education President Dr. Sharon Whitehurst-Payne and VAPA Instrumental Music Specialist Mark Nicholson

The San Diego Unified School District Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) Department recognizes students, teachers, administrators, and community members in their annual VAPA Spotlight Awards. The awards, which are sponsored by the VAPA Foundation, are presented to nominees who represent the strength of the district’s arts programs. This year’s Awards Ceremony was held on March 13, 2019 in the Board Room of the Eugene Brucker Education Center. Sixteen awards were presented in six different categories.

This is No. 5 of 6 in a series of profiles on the winners of the 2019 VAPA Spotlight Awards.

One of the awards presented, the Creative Community Engagement Award, honors those who collaborate, practice inclusivity, increase arts awareness, and develop strong community relationships through the arts. This award was given to a classified employee at Crown Point Junior Music Academy and three performing arts teachers at Mira Mesa High School.

Catalina “Cathy” Valenzuela (pictured at right, with Board of Education President Dr. Sharon Whitehurst-Payne and VAPA Program Manager Tim Benson) is an elementary school assistant at Crown Point Junior Music Academy who has been instrumental in putting CPJMA on the map. Her efforts led to Crown Point being recognized by NAMM as a major contributor to music education, and receiving a visit from the NAMM John Lennon Tour Bus. Cathy has helped coordinate partnership performances between students and the Classics4Kids Orchestra at Balboa Theater for the past 7 years. Cathy says, “Music has always been such an important part of my life. Being able to work at a music school that gives students so many opportunities to learn an instrument, sing, dance, and self-express is so important for children not only because it’s fun, but because we know that music and academics go hand in hand. This school is my second home and my second family.” 

Matthew Mulvaney (pictured at top) is the director of orchestras at Mira Mesa High School. He is always thinking outside the box and seeking to better himself, his program, and the student experience he provides. Building community is an area in which he excels, from doing a concert that donates all proceeds to charity, to facilitating student leadership, to beginning a high-quality summer string camp at his school. He is also extraordinarily dedicated to assisting his fellow educators when they contact him for advice or help. Matt says, “What I appreciate the most about the arts is its ability to encourage a diverse group of individuals to work collectively towards a common objective, in real time. Our students are academically driven, pursue a wide array of academic, musical, athletic, and community opportunities, and hold themselves to incredibly high standards. They challenge me to be a better teacher, musician, and individual, and I genuinely admire them for both who they are presently and for the ambitions they hold for themselves moving forward.”

Daniel Kriley (not pictured) is the theatre teacher at Mira Mesa High School. Julie Szweda, the SDUSD music teacher who nominated Daniel, says, “The musicals he directs are a total collaboration between the various arts disciplines: drama; choir; instrumental music; visual art; dance. The end products are testament to Daniel’s dedication as an artist and a teacher. Daniel is so deserving of this award, his artistry and vision are only matched by his hard work on behalf of theatre students at MMHS!” Daniel says, “The performing arts community at Mira Mesa High School has become family for me and for so many others. It brings students and parents to school on rainy Saturday mornings during the musical season to create, to dance, to sing, to act and to share. There is no better sight than seeing moms, dads and grandparents working side-by-side with technical theatre students sewing costumes, programming sound boards and building and painting sets.  Every student, parent, instructor, alumnus and community volunteer who has participated in and supported the performing arts over the years has helped to lay a strong foundation and provided a path to take us to where we are today – one of the finest performing arts programs in the district.”

Jeanne Christensen (pictured below, with Board of Education President Dr. Sharon Whitehurst-Payne and VAPA Instrumental Music Specialist Mark Nicholson) is the director of bands at Mira Mesa High School, where she began teaching in 1994, with five course offerings in the music program. Since then, the program has increased to three music teachers and has grown into the largest instrumental program in the SDUSD with over 350+ students enrolled in music courses.  Jeanne says, “As the Band Director, I know part of what students need in school is for an adult to care, express passion in their subject area, and make a difference by being a role model. I try to bring performance opportunities to our band program at Mira Mesa HS. It allows students to perform for the community and travel to other locations that they may not ever be able to do otherwise.” Examples of Mira Mesa’s performance travels include the Opening Ceremonies of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games in Australia, the National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C., the United Nations in New York City, and the 127th Tournament of Roses Parade. Jeanne was also recognized as the Mira Mesa Town Council’s Volunteer of the Year for 2018.

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