On Dec. 6, California State University, Northridge alumna Asuncion Ojeda, a music teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, was recognized as the 2015 Shining Star Honoree at the 10th-annual Education Through Music-Los Angeles benefit gala at the Skirball Cultural Center.
The next day, she didn’t want the limelight. At first, she spoke about all the other music instructors doing great things in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“I’m just one of many people out there working in the trenches,” she said.
Ojeda ’84 (Music), M.A. ’86 (Music Performance) said they are just like her.
Maybe. But Ojeda, one man said, is exceptional.
“I have the rare advantage of being able to see teacher-to-teacher work,” said Steven McCarthy, who nominated Ojeda for the award and LAUSD’s K-12 arts coordinator. “I immediately was impressed with her greatness, her ability to foster this tremendous love of music. She is so inspiring.”
To put it in perspective, McCarthy explained that this award doesn’t just recognize Ojeda as one of the best and most inspiring music teachers in the school district — it means that she is one of the best and most inspiring music teachers in the country.
The gala was a star-studded event, with performances by John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, Michelle Branch and En Vogue. Actor/musician Common was a presenter, and actor Eric McCormack hosted the event. The night’s other honoree was Randy Spendlove, president of motion picture music for Paramount Pictures.
Certainly, the very humble Ojeda felt a little out of place. In fact, the teacher said she was shocked when told she was receiving the award and at first was reluctant to accept the honor.
“My thought was, why?” she said. “They named me as one of the finalists, and I wanted to be excused from it. I just felt like there are so many deserving music teachers out there. I wanted the spotlight on them.”
McCarthy explained that she deserved the spotlight.
“She works in some of our lowest socioeconomic schools in the district,” McCarthy said. “She treats all students with equity and respect, and the professionalism that all students deserve. She sets high expectations for all of her students, and she acknowledges their successes, which inspires them to want to go even further. Too often, we find individuals that will assess their situation and feel that certain students aren’t capable of greatness. But Asuncion is able to see the child for what he or she is.”
Ojeda has been teaching in LAUSD since 1998, floating from school to school and educating hundreds, if not thousands of students each year.
After she received her master’s degree from CSUN in 1986, she earned a second master’s from California Institute of the Arts. Ojeda, a flutist, gave private flute lessons and worked as a substitute teacher until she joined the LAUSD.
According to Education Through Music-Los Angeles, she has been nominated for the award in past years, which speaks to how much she is appreciated and her consistent work.
The Shining Star Award goes to individuals whose contributions through music have changed lives. In 2012, former CSUN professor Linda Mouradian received the award on a night when legendary composer John Williams also was honored.
Three years later, Ojeda’s turn arrived. The teacher said her night was nerve-wracking, but exciting. When she took the stage, she immediately deflected the attention. She looked down and read from a prepared statement.
“I am a music teacher, and I simply do my job,” Ojeda told the crowd. “I plan lessons, pay attention to how students respond to instruction and take advantage of professional development opportunities that come my way. I work hard … and so do my colleagues in the Los Angeles Unified School District Arts Education Branch. I share this honor with them, as I view this Shining Star Award as recognition of the great work that is happening in arts classes — and more specifically, the music classes at elementary classrooms throughout the district.”
The next day, she was still thinking of others. Ojeda said she hopes the notoriety from the award will inspire more people to donate to music causes at her schools. She also hopes more people from the music industry will come to her schools to teach a lesson or two, she said.
The award recognizes the great contributions music teachers make in public schools, she said.
“More often than not, when it comes to school budgets, [music teachers are] the first teachers administrators think of cutting,” Ojeda said. “I would like more school personnel and administrators to understand what it is that our work involves: Getting students to become more efficient at solving problems. Getting students to create and appreciate beauty. And, getting students to work cooperatively with other students. Persevering at any given task.”