On March 24, 2024, at the 53rd Junos, Stephen Richardson received the MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award.

Every year since 2005, the Junos and MusiCounts have celebrated educators with the award, which recognizes teachers’ impact on students and their passion, innovation and dedication to promoting music education in their schools and communities. The winner will receive a $10,000 cash prize, a donation to their school through the MusiCounts Band Aid Program, two to three MusiCounts Legacy Grants made in their name and a Juno trophy.

MusiCounts, CBC Music and Anthem Entertainment recognized the five teachers below who were nominated for their outstanding work: 

  • Stephen Richardson, École St. Joseph, Yellowknife — WINNER.
  • Zeda Ali, Sunnyview Middle School, Brampton, Ont.
  • Robert Bailey, École Charlie Killam School, Camrose, Alta.
  • Élisabeth Bouchard-Bernier, École Des Explorateurs, Malartic, Que.
  • Sarah Comerford, Macdonald Drive Junior High, St. John’s.

“This award shines the spotlight on the important work done by music educators in schools across the country,” said Kristy Fletcher, president of MusiCounts, the official charity of the Juno Awards. “We’re thrilled to highlight the exceptional impact these five educators have had on their communities, schools, and most of all students.”

Find out more about this year’s nominees below.

Stephen Richardson, École St. Joseph, Yellowknife

Stephen sits with a guitar in a music classroom.
Stephen Richardson won MusiCounts Teacher of the Year at the 2024 Juno Awards in Halifax. (Submitted by MusiCounts)

As the K-12 music educator at his school, Richardson’s classes span everything from rock to jazz to band. He serves as a mentor to other school staff and teachers, and brings artists touring the North to the school for performances, workshops, etc. Inclusivity is at core of his teaching, as he incorporates noise-assist gear and apps to support students with exceptionalities. He is also an advocate for technology in the classroom, to empower students to build digital skills for recording, grant-writing, video production, and more.

Richardson was previously nominated for the MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award in 2021 and 2022.

Zeda Ali, Sunnyview Middle School, Brampton, Ont.

A headshot of Ali in a grey hoodie.
Zeda Ali is one of the nominees for MusiCounts Teacher of the Year. (Submitted by MusiCounts)

Ali has worked at Sunnyview for 17 years, originally starting as the math and history teacher. However, she always found a way to support the music department by organizing concerts, ensembles and more, and eventually became the music teacher in 2021. Since then, she has ensured the music in her classroom reflects the diversity among her students by programming a variety of genres and instruments, such as steelpans, that span cultures.

Ali has had a lasting impact on her students, who have returned to visit and volunteer with her, with some also following her path and becoming music instructors themselves.

Robert Bailey, École Charlie Killam School, Camrose, Alta.

A headshot of Robert in a suit against a black background.
Robert Bailey is one of the nominees for MusiCounts Teacher of the Year. (Submitted by MusiCounts)

In his 40-plus year teaching career, Bailey has been an advocate for music both in and outside of the classroom by conducting private lessons, leading summer camps, booking his students at festivals and other gigs, as well as founding a music parent association to assist with funding the music program at his school. As the concert and jazz band teacher, his motto is “music is for life.”

He is the recipient of honours such as the inaugural Fine Arts Achievement Award from the University of Alberta and the Alberta Band Director of the Year. He also spotlights music in the Camrose community through roles he’s held, including vice president of the Alberta Band Association.

Élisabeth Bouchard-Bernier, École Des Explorateurs, Malartic, Que.

Élisabeth Bouchard-Bernier in a red blazer in a music classroom.
Élisabeth Bouchard-Bernier is one of the nominees for MusiCounts Teacher of the Year. (Submitted by MusiCounts)

Bouchard-Bernier’s two goals as an educator are to share passion for music and foster joy in playing together. At École Des Explorateurs, she has exemplified this by incorporating a variety of non-traditional instruments such as cups and buckets into her music programming, and her use of a quiet corner in her classroom. The noiseless area allows students to spend time with their instruments in a noiseless environment to improve emotional regulation and attentive listening, and her therapeutic method has been employed by other teachers.

She is a two-time MusiCounts Band Aid Grant recipient and also serves on the board of the Federation of Music Educators of Quebec.

Sarah Comerford, Macdonald Drive Junior High, St. John’s

Sarah Comerford in a blue blazer outside leaning against a brick wall.
Sarah Comerford is one of the nominees for MusiCounts Teacher of the Year. (Submitted by MusiCounts)

Comerford is a teacher for whom music education is a year-round endeavour: she runs six different jazz, concert band and wind ensembles at her school, plays in the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra and also organizes Memorial University Junior Band Week in the summer.

She is a founding member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Band Association and is also a recipient of the Canadian Music Educators’ Builders Award. Fostering connection with other music teachers is one of Comerford’s goals: “As music educators, we are our biggest advocates… We should never be complacent about the security of music in our schools,” she told MusiCounts.

Host Nelly Furtado is bringing the party to the 2024 Juno Awards on Sunday, March 24, at 8 p.m ET. Tune in on CBC-TV, CBC Gem, CBC Radio One, CBC Music and CBC Listen, and stream globally on cbcmusic.ca/junos.

A designed graphic with turquoise background and the words "Join host Nelly Furtado at the Junos live Sunday, March 24, 8 p.m. ET" with a photo of Nelly holding a Juno.

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