Mooseheart band director honored with Opus award

January 28, 2011 4:27:32 AM PST
Steve Schmidt is one of five people in the country to receive this year's Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation Award, named after the music teacher who inspired the hit movie.

ABC7's Eric Horng traveled to Mooseheart School, near Aurora, to see this award-winning conductor at work.

For Schmidt, it's about more than just the music. "The skills that they're going to need in this room to succeed absolutely transfer to every walk of life," Schmidt said.

For more than two decades, Schmidt has been the band director at Mooseheart School. And, last week at a concert, he received the surprise of a lifetime.

Schmidt is one of only five teachers nationwide receiving the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation award, which honors those who, like the character in the movie, teach lessons beyond the classroom.

"I don't think you could have picked a better person. All around, he's an amazing band director," said student Sidney Worton.

"I think the way he affects people, and the things he does on campus, it just changes people's lives," said student Akeem Edmonds.

Mooseheart is not your average K-through-12 school.

The students here come from hard luck backgrounds and need mentors, not just teachers.

"For a kid to make a connection between I'm here, and I've gotten here, he can make that connection not just on his instrument, he can make it whether it be a relationship he has a difficult time with, whether it's something in school," Schmidt sad.

Schmidt has overcome his own challenges. He recently survived a heart attack, and as a young man, nerve damage to his lips forced him to give up his professional music dreams.

Instead, he became a teacher.

"He cares about the kids and their academics. He cares about the kids and their involvement. He cares about the kids and them succeeding," said Gary Urwiler, Mooseheart School superintendent.

With the award, Schmidt receives $10,000, and a trip to New York's Carnegie Hall for a ceremony with jazz legend Wynton Marsalis.

But it's here, in his band room, where Schmidt says he's most rewarded.

"It gets tough, but you know that if you stick with a kid long enough, you can really, really turn a life around," Schmidt said.