Free State High School director of orchestras honored as educator of distinction

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Article updated at 3:26 p.m. Friday, April 1:

Judy Erpelding, director of orchestras at Free State High School, has been selected as a Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction.

She was nominated by a student for the award, which honors dedication and commitment to excellence in teaching. It’s from the National Society of High School Scholars.

“Each year student members of NSHSS are invited to nominate the educator who has made the most significant contribution to their academic career for the Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction award,” according to a news release from NSHSS. “This honor recognizes exemplary educators whose passion and devotion inspire their students to grow and develop as scholars, leaders and citizens.”

Erpelding said via email Friday that educators frequently receive honors and accolades from professional organizations and colleagues, but this one is especially meaningful because it comes from one of her students. Students are the ones who truly know what happens in the classroom, she said.

“They are there every day, on the good days and the not so good days. For a student to take the time to say I deserve this honor and to nominate me, tells me my work matters,” Erpelding said. “It acknowledges the importance of music programs in our schools and its inclusion as part of the core curriculum.

“Receiving this honor tells me that I must be making a difference, and that’s what I had set out to do in the first place. I’m so very honored and blessed to teach such talented and bright students and I’m humbled that they celebrate me and think that what they are learning in my classroom is worthy of such an honor of distinction.”

Erpelding, of Eudora, is in her 10th year at Free State, according to a news release from the school district.

She earned her bachelor of music education from Baker University in 2012 and completed her internship and student teaching under Dr. Rachel Dirks at Lawrence High School and Jennifer Mitchell in the Shawnee Mission school district, according to the release.

She is also the current president-elect of the Northeast Kansas Music Educators Association.

“She also has been recognized as the NEKMEA 2020-21 Outstanding High School Level Orchestra Director and the 2016-17 NEKMEA Outstanding Young Orchestra Director,” according to the district’s release. “Additionally, Erpelding acted as the KMEA All-State Orchestra chairperson in 2019 and 2020 and served as the assistant chairperson in 2017 and 2018.”

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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