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Portland Youth Philharmonic presented Valor Middle School music teacher with the Eugene Kaza Music Educator of the Year award

LINDSAY KEEFER - Jason Rodgers, Valor Middle School music teacher, leads the band in warmup scales during class last week. Rodgers was given the Eugene Kaza Music Educator of the Year Award.Jason Rodgers, Valor Middle School's music teacher, has been named the Portland Youth Philharmonic's 2018 Eugene Kaza Music Educator of the Year, thanks to his diligence in instilling a love of music in his students, two of whom nominated him.

Three Woodburn students are members of the Portland Youth Philharmonic's Wind Ensemble this year, the first time the city has had any representation in the 400-student organization.

"Mr. Rodgers, who has helped me achieve my dream and who believed in me, was very helpful (in getting me into PYP)," eighth-grader Nicohlas Pajela, one of the three, wrote as to why he wanted to nominate his teacher for the award. "Because of him, I now have a big door in the future open for so many opportunities to come. Mr. Rodgers has attended all of the Portland Youth Wind Ensemble concerts and even looks forward to hear our performances. I am very happy that he supports us and that he never gave up on any of us, he believed in us."

Rodgers encouraged a handful of students to audition for PYP, a process that Pajela said was intense.

"He helped me audition and guided me through it — I wouldn't know how to audition without him," Pajela said about Rodgers. "You have to do major and minor scales, a solo piece and sight reading."

The three PYP students from Woodburn — also including Adriana Loera and Oscar Valtierra — said that music is central to their lives, especially on Wednesdays, when they have three-hour rehearsals.LK - Jason Rodgers (left) shows his Eugene Kaza Music Educator Award, which was presented to him by Portland Youth Philharmonic Music Director David Hattner, and for which he was nominated by students Adriana Loera and Nicohlas Pajela.

"In the sixth grade I joined band for the first time. I had never planned to go far in music, but thanks to Mr. Rodgers, that changed," Loera admitted in her nomination. "He introduced me to a whole new world, the world of music. His passion and genuine love for music was so clear when he taught, it was contagious. I learned how to love the art because of him."

And the students likely wouldn't have even known about PYP if not for Rodgers, who first reached out to the organization more than 10 years ago to increase interest in music among students. Over the years PYP has returned to the district to perform and hold workshops, hoping to inspire students. And it's worked, Rodgers said.

"Back in 2007, I had 30 students total in two band classes," Rodgers told the Independent last year when the philharmonic's wind ensemble performed at Valor. "Today, my smallest band class is 30, and I have 146 students in four classes."

And it was during a special workshop April 19 at Valor with PYP Musical Director David Hattner, when Rodgers was presented with the award.

The Eugene Kaza Award, named in honor of an alumni and music teacher who helped shape today's PYP with his advanced orchestra classes, celebrates music teachers of Portland Youth Philharmonic musicians who go above and beyond to inspire, educate and instill excellence and dedication.

Rodgers will be recognized at the last concert of the PYP 94th season at 4 p.m. May 6 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland. This performance is part of the "Pictures at an Exhibition" concert series. For tickets or more information, visit

In addition to encouraging students to embrace music and fostering a relationship with the Portland Youth Philharmonic, Rodgers has helped organize an annual honors band event that includes Woodburn and Molalla middle school students. He has also been the chief organizer of the Woodburn School District Festival for a number of years. That event will be held at 7 p.m. May 15 at Woodburn High School.

Also thanks to Rodgers' efforts, the school was one of 135 schools nationwide that received the SupportMusic Merit Award from The National Association of Music Merchants Foundation. The award is an opportunity for an individual school to be acknowledged for its commitment to music education.

"He taught me everything I can play," Loera said. "He's a great teacher. He deserves this."

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