South Florida SUN-SENTINEL
April 23, 2008
National Teacher Hall of Fame
CONGRATULATIONS: An elated David Lazerson is surrounded by friends & family Tuesday at the Quest Center in Hollywood after finding out he will be inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame. He thought the event was an Earth Day musical performance by Quest students. Instead, Lazerson was the main feature. He will be the second Broward County teacher and the ninth Florida teacher to join the Hall of Fame.
BROWARD MUSIC THERAPIST RECOGNIZED AS ONE OF THE COUNTRY'S TOP TEACHERS
by Akilah Johnson
Hollywood * Seated behind a guitar and singing along softly with his students, David Lazerson had no idea that Tuesday's Earth Day Celebration was really a musical tribute to him.
Students who seldom speak, and those who can't, stepped on stage to belt out melodies and to sign song lyrics. And classmates barely
able to move, their bodies in wheelchairs, operated the lights and special effects through special switches and buttons.
It is during moments like this that lazerson, 57, the director of music therapy at the Quest Center in Hollywood, a school
for profoundly disabled students, realizes his goal: "Take students from passive observers to more active participants."
And it is because of 30 years of these moments, that Lazerson, better known as Dr. Laz, was tapped Tuesday to be honored
by the National Teachers Hall of Fame.
"He has those God-given special ingredients," said Marcia Neuberger-Katz, a retired teacher and former co-worker.
Laz is the ninth Florida teacher - and second from Broward County - chosen to enter the Hall of Fame since its inception in 1992.
Five educators who have at least 20 years experiences and are passionate advocates for children are selected each year.
Teachers in Texas, Wyoming, Tennessee & Louisiana, along with Laz, were surprised with the news Tuesday. They will travel
to Emporia, Kansas - Teacher Town USA - for the official three-day ceremony in June. Plaques with their pictures will hang
from museum walls and their school halls.
"Wow. I'm sorry to rain on Earth Day's parade," Laz said from the cafeteria stage that looked much like his classroom, both
filled with colors, lights, sounds, and movement. All are meant to stimulate children who often can't interact with the world.
Green vines grew around pictures of Macaws. Plants camouflaged drums. And a screen displayed images of the beach at sunset.
"I think for the first time in a long time, I'm speechless."
In the audience: his wife and most of his seven children and 11 grandchildren.
His home in North Miami Beach and class near Stirling Road are far from Buffalo, NY, his hometown and the place that
shaped his philosophy.
Laz learned to teach outside the box during a statistics class in graduate school in Buffalo. A self-proclaimed "artsy type of person,"
Laz's professor got him so jazzed about numbers that he started carrying around a calculator. That experience, he says, taught him
that "you can use creative techniques to reach anybody."
His first teaching job at a predominanly black school in Buffalo taught Laz to look beyond the physical. A Hassidic Jew, laz said
he worried that his students wouldn't accept him with his full beard and yarmulke. By the end of the year, students were giving
him bike rides around the neighborhood.
"All those stereotypes," he said, "were in my own head."
He later moved to Brooklyn, NY, where he worked with at-risk teens and made headlines in the wake of the
Crown Heights riots, born of a rift between the Hassidic Jews and the blacks that lived blocks away but worlds apart.
Laz turned to music, helping form one band from the two camps that composed songs out of language from both cultures -
"Yo!" and "Oy!"
Music, he said Tuesday, is the magical key.
Laz, with his family, moved to Florida in 1996, and worked with kids at risk of dropping out of school before arriving at the Quest,
a school for profoundly handicapped students from pre-kindergarten to age 22.
Cassandra Jackson, a 22 year old autistic student graduating this Spring, was one of his first students. She was also the first
to step on the stage Tuesday and serenade the crowd with "God Bless America."
When she and Laz first started working together, Jackson sang the song fast and loud. So, he tapped her on the shoulder
to the beat until she learned the rhythm.
"My big reward," he said, "is seeing the kids perform."
REACHING OUT WITH MUSIC: Dr. David Lazerson sang Tuesday at an Earth Day event that became his award
ceremony at the Quest Center where he is director of music therapy. Lazerson, whose education career spans more than
30 years, has taught at the Quest for six years.
Dr. Laz with the four other 2008 inductees into
the National Teachers Hall of Fame.