HESPERIA — When Hesperia teacher Jonathan Bernal asked his eighth-grade students what they knew about the 1960’s, their responses were mostly “hippies, Martin Luther King Jr. and ‘some war.’”
“My classroom was filled with blank faces when I asked if they had ever heard of JFK, the Vietnam War, racial segregation, the space race, or even John Lennon,” Bernal, a language arts teacher at Topaz Preparatory Elementary, said in a written statement.
This is how Bernal began his application for the Jane Ortner Education Award, which six-time Grammy winning pop artist Lady Gaga personally presented to him on Monday at the Grammy Awards luncheon in downtown L.A.
The Jane Ortner Education Award “is a free program for K-12 educators who integrate music into teaching core academic subjects” established in 2011 by The GRAMMY Museum in partnership with Chuck Ortner. The award honors Jane Ortner, a public school teacher who valued music as a powerful classroom tool.
Bernal received liberal applause at the event, which featured a special performance from nine-time Grammy winner John Legend. The fame featured at the event didn’t stop there; it also took place at the Green Acres home of philanthropist Ron Burkle.
"I'm honored to have been selected as this year's Jane Ortner Education Award recipient,” Bernal said in a GRAMMY Museum news release. “This would not be possible without the amazing support I receive from my students and colleagues at Topaz Preparatory Academy."
Bernal, a teacher at Topaz Prep since 2012, was joined at the event by Principal Karen Prestwood and three starstruck students from his classes.
Prestwood said that when she told Bernal she wanted to nominate him for the award, he said, "Let’s give it a shot."
“We sent stuff he’d already done — it’s not like we went and invented something for the award specifically,” Prestwood said.
In order to “bridge the gap between the past and the present,” Bernal’s curriculum used S.E. Hinton’s coming of age novel “The Outsiders."
“High school is right around the corner, so this unit will help them understand their own changes and identity,” Bernal said in the award application. “This unit integrates literature, history, and music as a way to explore the novel’s themes.”
Prestwood said there were about 500 people at Burkle's "mansion" on Monday, with student performances of songs from “The Outsiders" in addition to Gaga and Legend.
The three students from Bernal’s class delivered personal speeches to express their appreciation for their teacher.
“I am a creative person born to be wild,” Rubie Lopez said. “Not all teachers give us the opportunity to use our creativity. Mr. B is different ... The fact that he goes out of his way to make sure there’s a smile on our faces makes us look forward to his class.”
Luke Phillips said that after reading “The Outsiders,” he gained a better understanding of discrimination and the importance of multiple perspectives.
“Every person offers a whole new perspective on the topic,” Phillips said, explaining that Bernal’s class discussions were “way more interesting than just a PowerPoint.”
Bernal’s students have spent the school year listening to songs from the era linked with excerpts from “The Outsiders.” Bernal paired the first chapter of the novel to Steppenwolf’s “Born to the Wild,” and similar assignments with The Who’s “My Generation” and a track for the 1983 film version of “The Outsiders,” Stevie Wonder’s “Stay Gold.”
“I believe music integration enhances the learning experience and helps my students make sense of the world,” Bernal said. “They are becoming communicators, collaborators and creative critical thinkers.”
In groups of four, his students also wrote, produced and recorded their own 20- to 25-minute radio shows to include a discussion of “The Outsiders,” news and weather reports as related to the novel, a commercial break and two songs from the 60’s.