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News Item: Homepage

Mission Vista’s Anne Fennell Is Tops In The Nation

By Ray Huard


She’s the best in the country, so said Magnet Schools of America in giving its top award to Mission Vista High School music teacher Anne Fennell.


Fennell, who heads the Visual and Performing Arts Department at the Vista Unified School District high school, has been named National Magnet School Teacher of the year by the organization, the national association for magnet and theme-based schools.


There are about 4,000 magnet and theme-based schools in the country, according to Magnet Schools website.


“As a classroom teacher, Anne Fennell focuses on educating the whole student,” Magnet Schools said in naming Fennell its teacher of the year. “Mrs. Fennell is practiced in educating students as well as leading other professionals in arts integration across curricula.”


This is but the latest in a series of awards for Fennell, who won state and regional awards for innovation in music education earlier this year and who was one of 10 finalists in 2016 for the GRAMMY Music Education Award.


“It’s been crazy,” said Fennell, who was a founding faculty member at Mission Vista High School.


A classroom teacher for 30 years, Fennell said, “I just love my students and I love music,” adding that, “It’s nice to know those things I envision in my life are coming true for my students, and to get recognition for that is icing on the cake.”


Fennell, a classical flutist, said her philosophy is that, “Every human being is a musician. It’s my job is to pull that out of them.” “My goal is for every musician to be a lifelong music maker,” Fennell said.


That philosophy is reflected in the way she teaches.

“I don’t tell them what to do,” Fennell said. “I’m not the conductor in charge. I am the facilitator. They get to make decisions.”


At Mission Vista, Fennell teaches three levels of music composition through technology and three levels of steel drum ensemble.


Her introduction of the steel drum ensemble is one of the innovations that has drawn praise from colleagues. “I picked that because I wanted a world music instrument,” Fennell said. “I wanted students to be able to walk up to an instrument and be able to play something immediately.”


A steel drum enables them to do that, she said. “Then the challenge becomes, I teach them how to arrange it,” Fennell said.


Her advice to other music teachers is “be relevant.” “Meet the students where they are, continue to connect with them to discover who they are as human beings.” Fennell said. “It takes time and it takes effort and it takes the love of students and the love of music. It’s a discovery process, like mining for gold.”




Mission Vista High School music teacher Anne Fennell has scored a regional award for innovation from the California Music Educators Association.


“How cool is that,” asked Fennel, who has racked up numerous awards as creative arts chair and instrumental and music composition teacher at Mission Vista.


The CMEA award honors Fennell for showing “excellence in music education, including emerging and digital media” among music teachers in San Diego and Imperial Counties.


In 2016, Fennell was chosen as one of the top 10 finalists for the GRAMMY Music Educator Award and received the CMEA’s SBS Innovation in Music Education Award.


Fennell in 2015 won an “outstanding program” award from San Diego County’s Digital Media Arts Showcase for the music composition program she runs at Mission Vista. She also received a CMEA Illuminating Culture Award in 2013 and an association Southern Border Section Outstanding Music Educator Award in 2008.


“I feel honored to be recognized, but it always and has to be about the kids and what I can do better for them,” Fennell said.  “I believe in lifelong music making and I believe students can be lifelong musicians. That’s the most important thing, finding joy in themselves and finding that joy in the music and sharing that joy with others.”


A classical flutist by training, Fennell said that she performs herself at weddings and other venues.


Vista Unified School Superintendent Devin Vodicka said that Fennell “exemplifies educational excellence and innovation.”

“Her most recent recognition affirms her continued leadership and impact,” Vodicka said. “We are truly fortunate to have outstanding educators like Ms. Fennell who are dedicated to student success.”


Innovation is central to Fennell’s teaching style. “Everything I teach at this school is outside the traditional band,” Fennell said.


For starters, the music composition courses she teaches at Mission Vista are far from typical in a high school curriculum.

“Music composition is never taught in high school. Usually, you wait until a junior in college,” Fennell said.


About 150 students take the composition courses each year, writing their own music. “They read, write and compose at the same time,” she said.


The Mission Vista High School Steel Drum band performs throughout the county each year, and is headed to Hawaii in 2017.


Fennell also has gone beyond the typical high school band by forming a steel drum band, which performs at numerous venues throughout the region, with a trip to Hawaii planned for later this year.


About 130 students take steel drum every year.

Fennell said that she decided to teach steel drum because she thought it was a good first instrument for introduction to music and less intimidating that other instruments.


“We thought, there are too many kids who don’t choose music in middle school, and then they get to high school and they never take it,” Fennell said. “If you’ve never learned music, you can still walk up to the (steel drum) pan and find a melody on it.”


The philosophy that guides Fennell is that, “Anyone can learn music and anyone can create,” especially with the evolving technology of smart phones and computer tablets.


“That’s what’s neat about technology,” Fennell said. “You can create with a touch of a finger.”

Posted by: Dave Palmer, District Associate, Vista Unified School District Published:5/8/17
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