Beloved CPS elementary school music teacher's legacy to live on through scholarship

CHICAGO (WLS) -- For 18 years at Bell Elementary School on Chicago's North Side, one teacher's impact went well beyond her classroom. And now, she will be forever missed.

"The culture that she had that school was really, really incomparable," said Cleo Goldberg, a former student who is now the current music teacher at Bell.

Family members say beloved retired music teacher Kathleen Pepin passed away on January 19 at the age of 69. The oldest of four girls, the Chicago native had long prepared for a lifelong career in education and mentorship.

After teaching for 25 years at various Archdiocese of Chicago elementary schools, she continued her career with CPS at Bell, where she taught music and theater.

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"It felt like the movie 'Sister Act,'" former student Sophie Gavilanes said. "Everything just turned out awesome."

"We worked together to produce Broadway musicals and talent shows," said Alison Newberry, a creative technology teacher at Bell. "Kathy had this uncanny knack to just recognize talent in students."

She recognized that talent in Goldberg, who would eventually follow in her footsteps at Bell School as a music instructor years after Pepin retired in 2017. They even teach in Pepin's old classroom.

"I think about her every single day," Goldberg said. "Not just the papers with her name on it, and her key ring that still has her writing on it. I really every day just try and make the culture of music at Bell even remotely as vibrant."

The legacy she leaves behind is now being used to help others. In fact, her son is raising money for a scholarship in her namesake. Already surpassing $7,000, the fund aims to support high school students pursuing music, performance and education.

"The perfect thing to do in her honor because, with the support of members of her community, she's still able to do that - give musicians the opportunity to really continue with their craft," Goldberg said.
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