Homewood-Flossmoor High School band director Sarah Whitlock has been selected a recipient of the Chicagoland Outstanding Music Educator Award which recognizes excellence in the field of music education.
She will be one of seven music educators from the Chicago area to be honored at a June 17 ceremony.
Whitlock has been a member of the H-F faculty since 2009. She directs the 190-member band, one of the largest school bands in the South Suburbs.
As a student at Illinois State University, Whitlock thought she’d major in performance art, but found that she really enjoyed teaching, so she switched majors for her bachelor’s degree. She taught band and choir for eight years at Bloom Township High School, and a year teaching band and orchestra at Argo High School before coming to H-F.
She took a break from high school work in 2005 when she pursued a master’s degree after receiving a graduate teaching assistantship from Central Michigan University. She taught for the university during the two years she was a student there.
In addition to her H-F work, Whitlock has taken on several leadership roles with the Illinois Music Educators Association-District 1.
Whitlock said she doesn’t know who nominated her for the award. She was pleasantly surprised to receive the news of the honor during a visit to the H-F campus by a representative of Quinlan & Fabish, the sponsoring company.
Quinlan & Fabish was founded by former band directors and works closely with schools for instrument repair and instrument rentals, and band music. The firm has been presenting the educator’s award since 1989.
Whitlock, a trumpeter, has her own experiences with bands that she brings to the classroom. As a teenager she was a band member with the Phantom Regiment Drum & Bugle Corps in Rockford, in addition to playing with her high school band.
She said she really feels for the H-F Class of 2021 band members because they never had a marching band season, and the pandemic forced the cancelation of the traditional performance schedule.
“I think the thing I love about teaching, and the silver lining I can pull from it, is just the human connection,” she said. “I think music specifically connects us at a different level than other areas. Music is one of the ultimate non-verbal communicators and connects us all in so many different ways.
“For some of us, we’re working toward a group goal; some of us are working toward a personal goal. Some of us are charged with lifting up the people around us. But I think the thing that makes it so unique that I love is that connection to people.
“I’ve thought a lot about these particular students. They’re going to be much stronger, even though they can’t see it now. Just from the aspect of when you struggle together with someone and you come out together on the other side you have a connection that’s never going to be broken.”