Local teacher wins People mag honor
BY LAUREN FITZPATRICK Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org October 14, 2012 6:46PM
Humboldt Park native Robert J. Vega, 31, teaches band at Rauner College Prep in West Town and was just named one of People Magazine's top five teachers of the year. | Photos: www.respublicagroup.com
Updated: November 16, 2012 6:12AM
People Magazine chose a Humboldt Park native as one of five winners in its inaugural Teacher of the Year contest.
Robert J. Vega, 31, teaches band to 350 students at Rauner College Prep High School, a Noble Charter campus in West Town, where he’s known as a demanding teacher who creates disciplined musicians from children who’ve never before held an instrument.
“I was so excited to show the kids: Hard work pays off, hard work pays off,” he said after returning from the New York celebration of the magazine’s Oct. 12 issue. “This is a success story I’m hoping they will cherish.”
Vega was born and raised in Humboldt Park, then his mother moved him at 12 to Indiana for better school options.
A stint in the U.S. Navy turned Vega into a teacher. Commissioned as a bugler on the historic U.S.S. Constitution battleship, Vega presented naval artifacts to schoolchildren on a tour called “Ironsides Across the Nation.” The connection stuck with him, so did his family musical roots (which included mariachi bands), and he became a music teacher at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
In 2008, he landed a job with the Noble Network and single-handedly built the program that now includes six band classes plus a jazz ensemble.
“As he tells it, music changed his life,” said Assistant Superintendant Eric Thomas, Vega’s former principal who nominated him. “He transforms kids, he works with kids who literally are starting from scratch in music. He teaches the kids the value of practice and with enough hard work magic can happen to them.”
Vega, a single dad of a 3-year-old and 6-year-old, said he’ll throw his $4,000 prize money into his school’s budding theater program.
It’s hard to take credit,” he said, “when there have been so many people along the way.”