Using music to heal: NYS Teacher of the Year is from Rochester

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Here’s something to brag about: The New York State Teacher of the Year is from our city!

Zachary Arenz has taught in the Rochester City School District for 11 years. He has spent his entire time in the district at School 54.

He’s the music teacher, but he’s taught the students so much more than how to strum a chord.

Music has always been a safe space for Long Island native Zachary Arenz, even at a young age.

“I naturally was just picking things up and making songs out of them, whether it was a new instrument that I found in the store or something that I brought home from school. Music just made sense,” Arenz said.

He wants to provide that same feeling for his students, especially if academics is not where they shine.

“They know that when they come to this room, they’re going to be successful again. And that’s a very powerful moment to see the kids just illuminate and see themselves as a success story no matter what’s happened before,” Arenz said.

Arenz has a large array of instruments in his classroom, offering a child many chances to find the right one, and get them excited to learn.

“It’s my job to to celebrate everything that a child does and to make sure that they love every moment of being in school,” Arenz said.

In a city that averages one murder every nine days, kids may come to school in need of someone to be there for them.

And Arenz has stepped up to the plate.

“When something is going on, all I can do is bring my best self to the student to the child, to our school, and pour everything that I have to give into them,” Arenz said.

And people have noticed.

The state teachers union named him the Teacher of the Year.

Now he’s in the running for the national honor.

And while he’s grateful for recognition of his success, his focus remains on helping kids find theirs.

“That’s the best moment in the world to give a kid a moment to find success,” Arenz said.