Jeff Knell admits he doesn’t like being the center of attention.
However, the work he does as a music teacher in the Bethel Park School District is indeed attracting attention.
Knell, a 2007 graduate of Peters Township High School, was recently awarded the 2022 Pennsylvania Music Educators’ Association (PMEA) District 1 Citation of Excellence in Teaching.
There are 12 PMEA districts across the Commonwealth. Knell is this year’s recipient of the state honor for District 1, which represents Allegheny, Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
The award is given biennially to elementary and middle school music teachers.
“It was a surprise to be nominated, but it’s a pretty cool honor,” Knell said, quickly giving credit to the students he teaches. “It’s quite humiliating.”
Knell is on the go during his workdays as he teaches orchestra at Neil Armstrong Middle School, as well as William Penn and Benjamin Franklin Elementary Schools. He is also the associate director of the high school marching band.
Knell, who is in her ninth year with the Bethel Park School District, was nominated for the award by fellow music teacher Rachel Skilone.
“Jeff and I have an almost brotherly relationship,” Skilone said. “He’s just an amazing person to work with and also happens to be an amazing music teacher.”
He became interested in music quite naturally, because his family is very musical. His parents – Tim and Lisa Knell – played musical instruments.
But one man Knell considers his biggest influence on his musical career is former Peters Township band manager Dr Robert Dell.
“The band was always a place I liked to go,” Knell recalled. “It was the one thing I could look forward to every day. I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but it was really my band experience in high school and my huge involvement in music there that got me. made me realize that’s what I wanted to do.”
Knell, who holds degrees from Duquesne and Mercyhurst, tries to pass on to his students the enthusiasm and energy he experienced with Dell, who taught in the Peters Township School District for 28 years.
“There were so many subconscious things he did that made us all love being in a band and loving the music,” Knell said. “I really try to bring some of that genuine excitement and enthusiasm into my teaching. I’m a bit of a goofy teacher, and to teach fourth, fifth and sixth graders you need to have a positive, energetic attitude and kind A goofy personality It’s important to show that you love what you do, so the kids will love what they do too.
Ninety percent of fourth graders in the district play instruments. Knell said many students remain involved in a band or orchestra throughout their school career.
“It’s something really special that I was lucky enough to step into,” Knell said. “It’s very, very rare to have such high numbers. The music department has always been well supported and appreciated for over 50 years, and the community supports and expects us to have great music programs . What we have is really cool.”
Knell attended the PMEA in-service conference in early April to receive the plaque commemorating his achievement.
He will also be recognized at a virtual awards ceremony on May 24. The plaque will be officially presented by PMEA District 1 Representative Eryn Carranza at the Neil Armstrong Spring Concert on May 18.
Knell admits the formal presentation will be “awesome”, but of course he thinks the honor should be shared by many.
“This will be one of the highlights of my teaching career,” Knell said. “It’s really good to be nominated for this and to get this, but I’m lucky to have the colleagues I do and the support I have. It will be a good time for this to be recognized. As much as it’s about me, it’s really about the people I work with and the students I teach. I couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have the people I’m with.