Educator Mark Van Doren once wrote, “The art of teaching is the act of assisting discovery.” Westmoreland County Public Schools are very fortunate to have many incredible and talented educators who guide students on an incredible educational journey every day. Since 1964, school systems have participated in the National Teacher of the Year program and Westmorland County Public Schools recently named four outstanding educators, Bruce Passaretti, MMS; Matthew Freno, WDES; Tamatha Williams, CES; and Shawnna Stone, W&L HS, as Teachers of the Year. From that group, one educator was then named as Westmoreland County Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year. The 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year is Bruce Passaretti, Music Instructor at Montross Middle School.
In 2016, WMLCPS was fortunate to find Bruce Passaretti as the band teacher for Montross Middle School. In his short time with MMS, Passaretti has molded and created an imaginative and exciting musical experience for the students of Montross Middle School. Whatever he is doing, it is working. Last year, 59 students or over half of the sixth graders signed up for beginning band. Of the rising eighth grade band students, only three have dropped from the program. Passaretti is passionate not only about his music, but he is equally passionate about his students and it shows.
In his nomination of Mr. Passaretti for the Teacher of the Year, MMS principal, William Bowen, wrote that “Mr. Passaretti’s passion for music is undeniable. He displays this passion each year when he transforms a group of fifty to sixty wide-eyed novices into an award winning band. Note by note and chord by chord, he builds a musical foundation for each student.”
Since his arrival, the level of musical performance at MMS has increased in many ways. The band has received ratings of Excellent and Superior at various events. In 2020, Mr. Passaretti took a record breaking fifty students to audition at the Area Honor Band and twenty-four MMS students secured a spot in the Honor Band. He also created the MMS Eighth Grade Eagles Marching Band, who performed at the Montross Fall Festival parade and at the W&L high school homecoming with the W&L marching band.
“All students deserve the opportunity to explore music,” explains Passaretti. He noted that “public education is based on opportunities to explore. Our band is not competition based. The most important thing to me is to increase involvement, not focus on competition. I want all students to learn to love music. I love the middle school students. It has been proven that personal musical preference begins at the age of 12. The influence on kids is enormous right now.”
Mr. Passaretti started his own journey with his love of the trumpet. In the fourth grade at Jasper - Troupsburg Elementary School in Troupsburg, New York his first music teacher was Stanley Matteson. So fulfilling was this experience that Mr. Passaretti has occasionally performed with him at an annual Jazz festival in his hometown. Mr. Matteson is still teaching music at Jasper-Troupsburg.
As he continued on his secondary band training, Mr. Passaretti had the privilege of working with Jonathan Neff, a high school band instructor. “I witnessed the inspiration he was capable of as a music teacher and made me want to have that kind of impact on people.” He never had any doubt as what career path he was going to take. Now, he speaks to Mr. Neff as a colleague at least once a month.
For his bachelor’s degree, he attended Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania and majored in Music Education with an emphasis on trumpet. Mr. Passaretti is currently working on his Masters of Music Education at Boston University. He comes from a family that embraces education. His mother has taught at Jasper-Troupsburg Elementary for 18 years. Mr. Passaretti’s father is a school bus mechanic and a school bus driving instructor. His older sister, Rachel Sherman, had a daughter a year ago, which has created a doting uncle role for Passaretti. Mr. Passaretti has special praise for all the things his wife, Sabrina, has done for him. “She supports me in every endeavor. She helps me and the band students at every performance.” Mrs. Passaretti is the music teacher at Washington District Elementary and does an equally fabulous program for the elementary students.
The upcoming school year will present major challenges to this hard working teacher. “Teaching beginning band, even semi-virtually, is going to be my biggest challenge. I hope that I can still be as effective teaching virtually. One of the key things in music is sharing a love of music and making music with someone else. Unlike other subjects, instrumentation sets the curriculum. That is one of the challenges coming ahead. Every year we have students and families come in for instrument fitting. Not all students can play the certain wind instruments due to jaw structure. We will need to determine how to bring the students and their families in safely and find out a way to sterilize the mouth pieces during the process. Can we use disposable mouth pieces? Can we find those? These are all questions we are addressing right now.”
Once the students arrive, the next question will be how they can find cohesiveness in being a split force.
Personal interaction is so important in music. Mr. Passaretti mentioned that everyone has seen the YouTube videos of musicians playing together. While that is all very spontaneous looking that is not the case. He explained that these have been heavily edited to eliminate the “lag” found in transmission. “Is this the future way to showcase a band? Who really knows right now?”
Hopefully, Mr. Passaretti’s winning humor will assist him in conveying the new techniques and challenges to his students. “It is important for students to like the way I teach. We try and keep up the interest right away. Each day students share their story in class. We build a community of caring students and a sense of family. It is extra important in music to share the rapport. That is the cornerstone of a successful band program.”
He wrote in his education essay; “Everything I do with my students relies on my rapport with them. In order to participate to the fullest extent in any subject, especially one as emotionally vulnerable as music, the student must have confidence and trust in the teacher. I talk to my students directly, but politely. I take time to learn about their personal lives and hobbies which can be time consuming considering the large number of students in the band. I make it a point to say good morning to the students as they walk past me during hall duty, say hello as they come into a classroom, and say have a nice day when they are leaving. Showing the students this level of respect opens the door for interactions that show you care about them as people and not just as students.”
Another educator, William Ward, once said, “the mediocre teacher tells, the good teacher explains, the superior teacher demonstrates, and the great teacher inspires.” For the many Montross Middle Schools band students that have had the opportunity to learn and study under Mr. Bruce Passaretti, they have been taught by a great teacher. Westmoreland County Public Schools congratulates Mr. Passaretti as their 2020 – 2021 Teacher of the Year.