NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A former all-girls charter school teacher is being thrust into the national spotlight.
Kokoe Tanaka-Suwan, better known as Ms. Kokoe, is up for a prestigious award for her work in music education at the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls, reports CBSN New York’s Nina Kapur.
Tanaka-Suwan started The Shirley Rodriguez-Remeneski School’s string orchestra 11 years ago, giving South Bronx girls from kindergarten to eighth grade the opportunity to play an instrument – an opportunity they may not have otherwise had.
“I’m a strong believer that the arts and academics go hand in hand,” she said. “So all the memorization, all the learning how to read music, music literacy really translates to the classroom.”
Now Tanaka-Suwan is being recognized for all her hard work on a national stage.
“I was like, ‘What?’ It was just very exciting news, and just such an honor to be recognized on this level,” she said.
She’s up for a GRAMMY – more specifically, the prestigious 2020 Music Educator Award.
Tanaka-Suwan was selected out of 3,300 nominations and is the only finalist from New York City. She’s up against nine others for the hardware.
“It’s just a real celebration for not only me but every single student and teacher and staff member in this school,” said Tanaka-Suwan.
Though she may still be in shock, Tanaka-Suwan’s former students say she’s extremely deserving.
“I was speechless and proud,” said fifth-grader Angela Ortega.
“It gives me motivation to be just like her, to learn how to play just like her,” said Aliyyah Thomas.
The award recognizes teachers who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrate a commitment to maintaining it.
Though she recently switched school districts, the program Tanaka-Suwan founded continues to give girls living in the nation’s poorest congressional district additional tools to succeed.
“We really just try to empower them and know that be proud of who you are and celebrate music and their individuality simultaneously,” said Tanaka-Suwan.
Whether she takes home the award or not, Tanaka-Suwan hopes this national recognition inspires the girls to continue pursuing their passion and show them they can do anything they put their minds to.