Music teacher from Allegheny County's Fox Chapel district is Pa.'s 2015 Teacher of the Year

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HERSHEY, Pennsylvania — Mairi Cooper, a music educator in the Fox Chapel Area School District who was named Monday as Pennsylvania's 2015 Teacher of the Year, said teachers stimulate classroom discussions and help students "build the castles of their imaginations."

Cooper, who was selected for the honor from a group of 13 finalists, teaches Advanced Placement Music Theory, Orchestra, Piano and World Music at Fox Chapel Area High School, where she's in her 14th year. She is also the director of the high-school orchestra and chairwoman of its music department.

In remarks after receiving the award at the Keystone Awards of Excellence program in Hershey, Cooper said her parents gave her three rules growing up: work to your potential, be a member of good standing in the community and always be home for dinner at 6 p.m.

At the dinner table, family conversations became robust discussions that she likened to building castles, with moats and turrets. Some castles they tore down and rebuilt, she said.

"The kitchen table is the dream I have for my students," Cooper said. "This is what teachers across America try to do for their students each day."

Cooper, who holds master's and bachelor's degrees in music from the University of Rochester, also has developed curriculum for the high school's music department, including proposals for two new music courses: History of Rock and Roll and World Music, which are currently being piloted.

She previously served as an adjunct faculty member at Duquesne University and Carnegie Mellon University and as a part-time faculty member at Seton Hill University.

The Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year program is co-sponsored by the state Department of Education and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National State Teacher of the Year.

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