Position: Music Teacher
School: South Miami K-8 Center
School District: Miami-Dade County Public Schools
City, State: Miami, Florida
About the Nominee: Vivian Gonzalez was nominated by her spouse, Alfred Figueroa, as well as a colleague, Melissa Lesniak. The following profile contains text from both nominations. Ms. Gonzalez, has been a Life Changer since she became a music teacher for Miami-Dade County Schools in December of 1999. Over the course of her career, she has proven to be an outstanding music educator and a strong advocate for music education in our district and abroad.
Her career began at a center school that served the 150 most severe cases of middle school students who were diagnosed as Emotionally Handicapped and Severely Emotionally Disturbed. While she was there, she started the R.O.K World Drumming Ensemble, a group that became the pride of the school. It was a steel drum band with Afro-Cuban hand drums. This ensemble gave the students a positive outlet for their emotions and a way to appropriately interact with their peers. In 2003, Ms. Gonzalez became the orchestra director at a local magnet middle school. Six months after taking the position, one of her students tragically passed away. After this hugely devastating event, Ms. Gonzalez led her students to persevere and show the community the power that music has to heal.
For the last 12 school years, Ms. Gonzalez has been the magnet music teacher at a local K-8 center school. She has focused her time on building a strong community that her students and their families can count on from third grade through high school graduation. Ms. Gonzalez has impacted the lives of hundreds of children in Miami-Dade County, and her efforts have been by many organizations. To give a few examples, she was Magnet Schools of America’s 2017 Region III Teacher of the Year, a featured teacher for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and a top-ten finalist for the 2014 Grammy Music Educator Award.
A product of the Miami-Dade music community, Ms. Gonzalez is a wonderful example of what can happen when a community rallies around a talented child who comes from a low socio-economic background. Wanting to give back to the community that gave so much to her, Ms. Gonzalez works tirelessly to provide her students with opportunities and support to ensure their future is bright. It’s commonplace to see her giving free lessons to students before or after school. She also helps parents and students navigate applications for middle school, high school, summer camp and college, and she helps them find community resources and scholarships so that her students can benefit from all that music has to offer. Most importantly, Ms. Gonzalez is committed to and passionate about making sure that every single student she teaches leaves her program knowing that they can do absolutely anything they put their mind to if they are willing to work hard for it. She impacts the lives of her students by providing and encouraging repeated opportunities for them to work hard and succeed. Her students develop confidence, work ethic, a love of music making and resilience, making them stand out among their peers.
Ms. Gonzalez is a particularly strong advocate for students with special needs. She has developed many innovative inclusion lessons and practices that have made her a regular presenter on the subject. Through her initiative and willingness to support her colleagues, Ms. Gonzalez has made string instrument education more accessible to students with disabilities in Miami-Dade County and across the nation. She has presented on the topic of inclusion of special needs students for the National Association for Music Education, American String Teachers Association and Little Kids Rock, Florida Orchestra Association, and the Florida Music Education Association conferences.
Students regularly reflect on the impact Ms. Gonzalez has had on their life as a second mother and mentor. Phrases like, "Ms. Gonzalez makes me believe that I can do anything I am willing to work hard for," "Ms. Gonzalez makes me feel safe," and "Ms. Gonzalez makes me feel like I always have someone looking out for me," are regular comments from students. Parents of her students are her most vocal supporters, impressing upon administrators and community members the value of her teaching and the community that is created by her program.
Her colleagues hold her in the highest esteem, always praising her integrity, commitment and passion. She’s always looking for ways to encourage and support her colleagues and emerging music educators. As such, Ms. Gonzalez has served as a clinical supervising teacher and a mentor teacher. She is currently the Awards Chair for the Florida Chapter of the American String Teachers Association, an Emerging Leader for the Florida Music Educators Association, the Southern Division Representative for the NAfME IN-Ovations Council, an Editorial Committee member for the International Journal for Music Education and the South Miami K-8 Center School Advisory Chair.
In addition to her many leadership roles, Ms. Gonzalez has made a meaningful impact on her students and community through her students’ participation in district honors festivals, Florida All-State, and numerous community performances and events. She has created strong ties to the community by building relationships with local organizations such as the Miami Marlins, the Miami Heat, the Florida Panthers, the Adrienne Arsht Center, New World Symphony and Florida Grade Opera, University of Miami and Florida International University, just to name a few. Through these relationships, Ms. Gonzalez has created fundraising opportunities, scholarship opportunities and community support for her students and program.
Ms. Gonzalez is currently a doctoral candidate in special education. She is passionate about the inclusion of all students in the music classroom as well as cross-curricular instruction. She also has degrees in Music Education, Curriculum/Instruction-Reading Education and School Leadership. With this broad base of knowledge and skills, Ms. Gonzalez is well versed in education policy and programs and initiatives in music education. She has leveraged her knowledge for the advancement of the string education community in Miami-Dade County.
Her husband states that he has seen her work, passion and sacrifice firsthand. Ms. Gonzalez spends countless hours setting up events in the community for students, rehearsing after school, completing paperwork, talking to community members to ensure that her program will be around for years to come and mentoring former students to stay on a college path and be successful in life. She ensures that all of her current and former students are taken care of and have what they need. Whether it’s securing funds to ensure a student’s family has gifts and food over the holidays or helping a former student buy their first car, Ms. Gonzalez is always there to be a resource for her students.
Every day, Ms. Gonzalez is a LifeChanger in the Miami-Dade community. She is passionate and committed to making sure that every child she works with at school, through volunteering or in summer camp knows that she cares about them and is willing to help them on their path to a successful, well-rounded life. Her music magnet classroom is a community, and her students feel safe, valued and part of a large family.