CSUSB graduate Brian McDaniel one of 50 teachers worldwide picked as finalists for Global Teacher Prize

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IECN photo Rodrigo Pena/CSUSB: Brian McDaniel accompanies the Painted Hills Middle School choir during a class.
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Brian McDaniel, a Cal State San Bernardino graduate who was California’s nominee for the 2018 National Teacher of the Year, has been named one of 50 finalists for the Global Teacher Prize, a $1 million award presented annually to an “exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession” by the Varkey Foundation.

McDaniel, the music teacher and director of bands and choirs at Painted Hills Middle School in Desert Hot Springs, earned his master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Cal State San Bernardino in 2008. In the fall of 2017, he was selected as one of the state’s five 2018 Teachers of the Year. On top of that, he was named by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson as California’s nominee for 2018 National Teacher of the Year.

In announcing the 2019 Global Teacher Prize finalists, the London-based Varkey Foundation on its website said, “From teaching in remote mountain villages and inner-city schools to teaching in some of the poorest and most violent regions in the world; our top 50 finalists are changing the lives of students around the world and we cannot wait for you to meet them!

“Our top 50 finalists include teachers developing peace-building skills and advocates for inclusivity to teachers changing curriculum’s in their countries and integrating migrants into classrooms – they are all champions for change and are inspiring students and communities around them,” the foundation said.

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Making the final list of 50 was competitive. The foundation said for the 2018 award, it received more than 30,000 applications worldwide. The 2019 finalist list will be narrowed to 10 candidates, with the winner to be announced at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai in March 2019.

As a child growing up in Desert Hot Springs — an economically disadvantaged community in the Coachella Valley — he endured the suicide of his father, an abusive stepfather and a period of homelessness.

Yet, with the help and support of his teachers and a determination to go beyond all expectations, McDaniel overcame those challenges, graduating from high school and earning his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees.

In a way, the music program at Painted Hills, and the one at Desert Hot Springs High before McDaniel arrived at the middle school in 2014, can be seen as a reflection of the teacher’s life. When he arrived at Painted Hills, for example, all he had to work with was an empty band room — no instruments, no music stands, no chairs. He swept the floors, built shelving, installed locks, then wrote grants and sought donations for musical instruments.

In a way, the music program at Painted Hills, and the one at Desert Hot Springs High before McDaniel arrived at the middle school in 2014, can be seen as a reflection of the teacher’s life. When he arrived at Painted Hills, for example, all he had to work with was an empty band room — no instruments, no music stands, no chairs. He swept the floors, built shelving, installed locks, then wrote grants and sought donations for musical instruments.

He did have students, however, eager to learn music, eager to succeed, and just as eager to get in on the ground floor. “The in-between was rough. I’d have kids coming in saying, ‘I’m here for band.’ I didn’t have chairs for them. We’re using benches,” McDaniel recalled during an interview in early 2018. “And we’d do that for four or five months. I’d do clapping exercises, I’d borrow guitars, I would do a lot of show-and-tells.”

Along the way, as donations and instruments came in, the students decided to call themselves The Regiment, after the high school band program. More than a name, it was an attitude they sought and developed — one of unity aimed at achievement and success.

The Regiment became driven to not just succeed, but to also raise the stature of their school, which once had the reputation of having discipline problems, McDaniel said. The idea: to go “Beyond All Expectations,” the students’ rallying cry, worn proudly on their hooded sweatshirts. One way they did that: Their first competition in band and choir, and for many, their first time to travel outside the Coachella Valley, they took first place in a music festival in San Francisco in 2016. The program had only first- and second-year music students then. They repeated again in 2017 at a music festival in Hollywood.

In announcing McDaniel as one of the finalists for the Global Teacher Prize, the Varkey Foundation noted that The Regiment’s success extends beyond the band room: “The Regiment has also transformed performance in other academic areas: Brian’s students attained a graduation rate of 100 percent and a daily school attendance rate of 92 percent, significantly higher than students outside the music program.”

The foundation also noted McDaniel’s advocacy for his students. “Brian himself has also looked to make contributions outside his school community, serving as commissioner of Community and Cultural Affairs for the city (of Desert Hot Springs) and as an educational and community adviser to California Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia, U.S. Congress Member Raul Ruiz, and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein.

“If awarded the Global Teacher Prize, Brian would use the funds to establish a foundation to expand The Regiment, forging further partnerships and hopefully funding the project indefinitely,” the foundation said.

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