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Turrentine Middle School orchestra director Jody Gaedtke helps eighth-graders with the song “Spirit of the American West” on Wednesday during class at the school.

Sam Roberts / Times-News

   Turrentine Middle School orchestra director Jody Gaedtke helps eighth-graders with the song “Spirit of the American West” on Wednesday during class at the school.

North Carolina Symphony honors Turrentine educator
By Isaac Groves The Times-News 9/21/13  
Reprinted with permission.

   Jody Gaedtke learned June 10 she would receive the Maxine Swalin Award from the North Carolina Symphony as an outstanding music teacher.

   Her husband, Keith, died June 11.

   “I found out on Monday and he passed away on Tuesday,” Gaedtke said. “It was quite the whirlwind.”

   Gaedtke spent two years caring for Keith after his diagnosis with stage four esophageal cancer while running the 150-student orchestra program at Turrentine Middle School with all their regular weekend trips and festivals.

   “In the midst of meeting his needs as a caregiver I maintained this program,” Gaedtke said, “because it needed to be maintained.”

   It also helped her get through the day, she said.

   Talking about Keith is one of two things that make tears come to Gaedtke’s eyes. The other is the stack of letters the parents of current and former students wrote about her to the award selection committee.

   “One of Jody Gaedtke’s greatest gifts to students and to music is her innate sense of what each student needs to fulfill his or her potential, both musically and as a whole person,” wrote Marcia Livesay, mother of a former student.

   Those letters, said David Albert, who headed up the awards committee, put Gaedtke ahead of a crowded field of good candidates.

   The Maxine Swalin Award for Outstanding Music Educator recognizes a teacher who, “makes a lasting difference in the lives of students of all abilities and backgrounds, serves the community in an exemplary manner as a role model in music education, instills a love for music in children, and inspires students to reach appropriately high musical standards,” according to the symphony’s website.

   Gaedtke received the $1,000 award at the symphony’s opening concert this week, Albert said, and also conductor Grant Llewellyn’s 10th anniversary celebration.

   Gaedtke studied music education at Duquesne University. When she graduated in 1980, she was the first in her immediate family to go to college, but there were no teaching jobs available in her native Pittsburgh at the time.

   She took a job as a director of religious education and youth ministries in Michigan and Wisconsin for 12 years.

   She was studying at Western Theological Seminary for a master’s degree in religious education when a job came open in Wisconsin filling in teaching a middle school orchestra. She loved it, and has been with it ever since.

   She came to Turrentine in 2000, and according to Livesay’s letter, turned the orchestra program around. Gaedtke said she does not have a defined approach to teaching.

   Her style is more an extension of her personality.

   “I don’t know that I ever gave it a lot of thought,” Gaedtke said. “I guess to me it’s all relational; you make it fun, you establish relationships with students, but you also keep your expectations high.”

   Gaedtke’s music education started in middle school, too, with a school violin and orchestra. It set her on the road to college and a career she loves.

   It is a big part of the reason she wants Alamance County to keep its strong orchestra program from the old Burlington City Schools.

   She hopes the award shows the program is strong, though she doubts it will change her style.

   “I don’t know that anything changes; change happens all the time because the kids are different and their needs are different,” Gaedtke said.

   “It’s a motivator to continue doing what you’re doing.”