Excellent Educator: St. Thomas Academy’s John Bina

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The saying is when one door closes another one opens. A teacher in Mendota Heights knows that first-hand.

John Bina taught band in one Twin Cities school district for 25 years until budget cuts suddenly left him without a job and not knowing where he’d go next. After sending in an application, St. Thomas Academy quickly hired him and are so glad they did.

Since coming there leaders say he has increased enrollment and students’ enthusiasm for band. Mr. Bina’s ability to not let a devastating lay off keep him from inspiring students is what makes him this week’s Excellent Educator.

For three decades Bina has loved the thrill from behind the conductors podium, but it’s the work done in class with students, he cherishes the most. “I like watching students grow, watching students learn, I like the process from beginning of rehearsal to the concert,” he said.

We surprised Mr. Bina during his beginner guitar class at St. Thomas Academy. Students at the military leadership school have a lot of opportunities to learn music, thanks to Mr. Bina. He not only conducts the band in class and at concerts, but also on the field at football games — even at a Badgers game.

And under his leadership in the last four years, band students have had the chance travel to Germany, Austria, France and Italy. “I’m a big believer in student travel and the power of travel to open doors and windows for kids to see the world,” he said.

The growing opportunities are generating excitement around band, and making students want to join. Band enrollment is up, thanks to Bina. “I’m pleased people support the program and find value here,” Bina said.

The appreciation has to feel good, especially after being laid off from his last teaching job. Although he’s landed on his feet, Bina, worries about what budget cuts to music means for the kids.

“It’s unfortunate because when you look at all the research of what the fines arts does for the brain we should probably be investing more into fine arts education than taking time and stuff away from that,” he said.

Bina tells Kim he uses his experience of being cut from the job as a teachable moment. He says he tries to instill in students that opportunity can present itself in a variety ways, shapes and forms. He also preaches that if students put their head down and do the hard work, they are almost always rewarded.

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