Monica Benolkin

Monica Benolkin of Rockford has been teaching for 10 years, the past six at Rockford Lutheran, where she teaches orchestra for students in third through 12th grades. Before landing on this career, however, she had already graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music. It wasn’t until she was teaching a young boy a song on his violin that she realized she needed to earn her teaching certificate. Since then, she has “tried to provide the best music education to my students, in order to help them learn and grow not only as musicians but as individuals, and to help them find joy in their successes.” Classroom observers enjoyed how she encouraged critical thinking by recording performances and asking students to evaluate it both verbally and in writing. The mask mandate was lifted on the day of one of Benolkin’s classroom observations. One observer commented that she “handled a tough situation with ease. She acknowledged it and had students write down their emotions. She played music to calm them as they expressed their emotions. Professional to the core.” A challenge Benolkin faces as an orchestra teacher is how to reach students at so many different skill levels. Benolkin says, “It is not unusual for there to be an all-state musician in the same group as a player who is in their second year of playing.” She uses several methods, including small group work, sometimes by instrument, sometimes by skill level. She also arranges for mentorships between advanced high school players and junior high players. “The junior high students are receiving more help and challenges as needed and the high school students are gaining valuable insight into teaching and helping others.” Donald Kortzke, Academic Dean of Rockford Lutheran Junior/Senior High School, has seen Benolkin’s students’ IEP test results. He wrote, “Most schools would not allow a student on so much medication for ADHD to go near a fragile musical instrument, let alone expect them to draw from it such beauty and creativity. She does it on a regular basis … they now have a gift otherwise undeveloped. They now have a new set of skills and disciplines that will help shape their entire future. They have an opportunity to perform and shine for parents and peers alike. Most of all, they have developed a new sense of self and a new concept of who they are as an individual, a new aspect of school and life in which to excel and along with that, a self confidence that will empower them to venture into new avenues that will reshape their life.” Benolkin recently assigned students to read about the group Black String Triage and write about them. The Milwaukee musicians go to “the location of shootings, often at the same time as first responders and plays music by Black and Latinx composers. Their goal is to tend to the spiritual needs of the community during a time of crisis … I hope students will see … musicians currently at work in the world, using their gifts to serve others and they will see how what they are learning in the classroom could be relevant out in the world.”