Why you should care

Because the skills learned in music can translate to pretty much any job.

Gregg Breinberg, OZY Educator Award winner
Staten Island, New York

Every single child has a special gift or talent. Public school education has become so focused on math and English that we forget this. We forget to give kids different outlets to succeed, which is why I am especially grateful to be the music teacher here at PS 22, where I can be a part of the bigger solution in encouraging our kids to live up to their full potential.

The fifth-grade kids in my chorus class are using music as a tool to become better selves. They are learning how to interact with each other. Every person, whether or not they’re the best singer, has something to bring to the party. It’s what makes teaching music so joyous and keeps every school year fresh.

It was right around the time that YouTube became a thing, in 2005, 2006, that I started posting videos of my kids’ chorus performances. Soon, they organically took on a life of their own and attracted the attention of the artists whose songs we had covered. Perez Hilton was one of our early proponents and was key in spreading the word about the chorus kids far and wide. We could never have anticipated the way that things snowballed from there. These kids are incredible, and it has also been a case of being in the right place at the right time.

Working with the innate passion that lies buried in everyone and letting it shine is something I love.

The chorus has performed with Carrie Underwood, Katy Perry, Walk the Moon, Common, Gavin DeGraw, Queen Latifah and so, so many others. They performed for Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, President Obama twice and even performed at the 2011 Oscars — it was amazing.

What makes my kids special? They’re all 10-year-olds in public school who haven’t had to pass through extensive auditions. It’s not like we’re only working with the most exceptional talent in the city. We’re taking ordinary kids and lifting them to extraordinary heights. They take what’s given and work with it to get to where they want to go.

I fell into this job as an educator rather serendipitously. I had graduated from State University of New York at New Paltz with a degree in music theory and composition and wasn’t quite sure what my next career move would be. I had been a camp counselor before, and my parents are both public school teachers, so working with kids seemed like a natural fit. A music teaching position at a different school opened up, and I got my foot in the door of the Department of Education.

When I came to PS 22 in 2000, I taught second grade for a year — everything from reading, writing and math to music. When my principal opened up a music teaching position for me the following year, I was ready to do something meaningful with the opportunity.

I encourage the kids to come together and discover the music in a group setting but by expressing it individually through their strengths. Working with the innate passion that lies buried in everyone and letting it shine is something I love.

Much of the work is very physical, and I’m sadly not getting any younger. If I go in and I’m not at my best, it will be an unsuccessful practice. It definitely involves dancing and a lot of wrangling, but given that so many of my kids have emotional baggage, it’s really important to offer them this opportunity to express themselves in a way they can’t otherwise.

I enjoy every minute of my work. It’s gratifying when my students come back and tell me what they’re up to. I have been blessed to hear that a lot of the kids credit their experience in the PS 22 chorus for giving them confidence. They develop a passion and work ethic for doing something they love. Hopefully the lessons my kids learn here — about applying yourself and really being in the moment and finding your place — translate into the real world for whatever they do.

OZYTrue Story

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