Community Voices - Leonard Gnizak

Posted by Daniel Murphy
Daniel Murphy
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on November 16, 2015 in Community Voices

Copy of Leonard GnizakLeonard Gnizak is in his 36th year of teaching music.  Currently, he is the Director of Bands at Oberlin City Schools, a post he’s held since 2004.  Mr. Gnizak has been a community partner to four generations of Music Mentors since the program was started in 2005.  He holds a B.A. in Music Education from Cleveland State University, and has studied Clarinet with Ted Johnson of the Cleveland Orchestra.  In 1988, he was elected Teacher of the Year by the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.

Q. How did the Music Mentors project first come to be?

A. About ten years ago, a student cellist from Oberlin Conservatory approached me and said she wanted to learn how to teach.  She figured if she offered free lessons to music students in the Oberlin public schools, she could learn about the educational side of the music world.  She realized she could offer the project as an "ExCo" to other college students, and formed the group that we now know as Music Mentors.  Under the second management, the project was stripped of its "ExCo" status.  As a result, the number of students involved doubled.

Q. Why do you think it's important for college students to be involved with the Oberlin community?

A. College students earn valuable experience by getting involved with the Oberlin community.  The Music Mentors I work with tend to realize they get more out of community-based experience than what they put in.  Also, many members of the community don't have the resources college students have, so they can always use their help.

Q. What are some notable learning experiences you've had as a result of working with the college students?

A. The college students develop rapports with the kids in my schools.  The kids feel comfortable enough to discuss issues at home or at school with their mentors.  Then the college students tell me about any problems that need to be resolved.  Without their music mentors, many conflicts in the kids' lives wouldn't be addressed.

Q. What advice can you offer to college students about starting and sustaining community-based projects like Music Mentors?

A. The college student needs to have an idea.  Offer something to the community, but don't be too pushy.  The person who came to me about starting Music Mentors asked, "Do you need help?", and not, "I'm going to teach your students."  She didn't come in with a strict agenda; she was clever to let the program come together naturally, through experience and over time.  When a college student offers help, it can end up to be a lot of work for the community partner as well, so be considerate of that aspect.

Q. How does Music Mentors contribute to a sustainable community between the College and the city of Oberlin?

A. It's a great model for other sustainable projects.  It has continued for four generations just by word of mouth.  Nothing about the program is set in stone, and although changes in leadership tend to change the program slightly, it still flourishes throughout those transition periods.  Finally, the program is entirely student-driven.  It's never needed intervention from college or conservatory faculty.  The fact that the program is student-driven is what makes me so proud of it


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