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It’s a Tuesday afternoon. Chris Maunu, as he is known to do, takes a few minutes to work with a student — this one who just happens to not currently be enrolled in choir — to work with them on their singing.

The fact that Maunu takes time out of his day to provide extra help isn’t all that uncommon, even in the past year when classes have been remote or asynchronous. That is just who he is.

“Mr. Maunu is like the most amazing teacher I’ve ever had,” Arvada West student Madison Major said. “He does so much for his students. He cares so much.”

Maunu, however, says if it was not for the students who he has taught for the past 15 years that he wouldn’t be where he is.

“I always tell my students that any recognitions or accolades that come my way are a reflection of their amazing voice. Teachers are nothing without great students,” he said. “But, of course, any validation especially in hard times like this year … is pretty special.”

That’s why Maunu feels blessed that because of students such as Madison and others he’s been named a finalist for the Grammy’s Music Educator of the Year award for 2021. This is the third time the Head Choral Director at Arvada West High School has been recognized. He was also a finalist in 2018 and 2020.

The winner will receive a $10,000 honorarium and matching grant for their school. The honor will be announced during Grammy Week. This year, the Grammys will be televised on March 14.

The Music Educator Award honors a teacher’s contributions in the classroom, and Maunu’s teaching is quite diverse. He doesn’t stick to just one genre of music, Madison said.

“He’s done a really good job of diversifying our musical knowledge, making sure it’s all kinds of culture and different types of music,” Madison said. “He does a really good job of preparing us for anything we need.”

Madison knows this all too well, as she’s preparing to audition for college scholarships in the coming weeks. The A-West senior says that Maunu has prepped her for what pieces to sing as part of her audition based on the strength of her voice.

“We don’t just sing with him, but we talk about our struggles with him or about big world events that are happenings,” Madison said of her and her classmates. “He takes a little time out to talk about that, making sure that we are all OK.”

That includes the classroom’s Hot Seat. Each day, one classmate is chosen to sit in the Hot Seat, be it in person or during virtual Google Meets and is serenaded with compliments from their peers.

While the past year has been challenging, even for those such as Maunu who have had to adapt to teaching choir remotely, he still wants to share that passion for music with the students.

“(Music’s) been in me literally as long as I can remember. It’s something that I have loved,” Maunu said. “I just want to pass that passion on. I’ve seen what the power of music can do in my life, and I want to pass that on to my students.”

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