Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators
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With a Little Bit of Love and a Whole Lot of Marimba

The finalists for 2022 Texas Teacher of the Year—a program facilitated by the Texas Association of School Administrators—include bilingual and gifted and talented educators, a physical education educator, and science educators, all of whom have gone above and beyond and are thus being recognized for their efforts in public education. Among them is a sole fine arts educator, Pre-K to Grade 5 music specialist and ATPE member Bonnie Anderson, who teaches at Miller’s Point Elementary in Judson ISD.  

Anderson’s teaching career began 29 years ago, but her drive to become a teacher began many years before that. After a traumatizing experience as a child with her second-grade teacher, the once-boisterous, hyperactive Bonnie found herself losing social ability and yearning to make sure other students weren’t made to feel like an outcast the way she had been. 

“She really just hated me,” Anderson recalls. “The damage she did to my esteem and my social skills took years to overcome. That’s when I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to be a teacher, and I’m going to be a nice one.’” 

As Anderson worked to navigate her own struggles with confidence and build up her shattered social skills, she stumbled upon a newfound love for music. 

“My therapy over those years was music,” Anderson says. “I was fortunate to have parents who noticed my talents and invested their money in it.”     

Throughout her adolescence, Anderson’s love for music grew alongside her socially awkward personality.  

“I went from struggling with grades, nearly flunking ninth grade, to straight As my sophomore year and pretty much the rest of high school,” Anderson says. “Music really saved me.”  

The correlation between better grades and studying music is not unique to Anderson’s experience. According to the American Psychological Association, organized music lessons appear to benefit children’s IQs and academic performance—and the longer the instruction continues, the larger the effect. Anderson noticed this in herself, and her fire to become a music teacher was fueled forever.  

The Importance of the Arts 

By now, it is not news to anyone that the fine arts have lost funding and attention in districts across the country and here in Texas. Funding for arts education is always at risk, something Anderson believes is an important issue.  

“I think teaching the arts is extremely important,” Anderson says. “If [this outlet] gets cut or undermined or [does] not have importance placed on it, I think we will see it as a detriment to the people we are raising.”  

According to Anderson, the loss of funding and resources for the arts is a lost opportunity to strengthen America as a whole. 

“I think what made America great is [that] we had business majors growing up who had a good liberal arts education, and they knew how to look at things from all sorts of different perspectives,” Anderson says. “Art is an important perspective, and I think it is just helpful in creating a good country.”   

Spanish for the Soul  

As a music specialist, Anderson has worked closely with students from all backgrounds, but during her time a Coronado Village Elementary, the school had become a dual-language campus. Anderson recognized this as a chance to connect with students who spoke Spanish. It wasn’t an opportunity she wanted to miss. Over the course of high school and college, she had taken over 60 credit hours of French,and she regretted not spending that time focusing on Spanish. 

“I thought to myself about the whole population of students who would be coming in with whom I had a language barrier, so I went back to school to learn the language,” Anderson says.  

Anderson wanted to give her Spanish-speaking students the same opportunities to experience music as her English-speaking students. Her desire to connect with these students and their families ultimately led to her studying Spanish Language and Literature at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico. 

“I know, in our district at the time, I was the only elementary music teacher who could teach in Spanish,” Anderson says. “I think dual-language students really enjoyed coming into my classroom and having someone there who could understand them.” 

COVID-19 and Creating Music 

Even the best of the best in education have felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but according to Anderson, the best way to keep moving forward is by looking ahead. As a music teacher, her resources looked limited until she got creative. At the beginning of the pandemic, families, educators, and students were less worried about fine arts classes, and the heavy load fell on classroom teachers to continue teaching as normally as possible. When COVID-19 didn’t go away the following school year, Anderson knew she would have to take matters into her own hands—literally and figuratively.  

“I was such a hands-on teacher—I never really had to use technology as an outlet—so my initial thought was ‘oh my goodness, this is going to be awful. I don’t know how I am going to get through this, how long is this going to last,’” Anderson recalls. “That’s when I realized that with that attitude, nothing was going to be good at all. I let myself have a pity party for a day, and then I dug right in.”  

And that is exactly what Anderson did. Judson ISD adopted the learning platform Canvas to bridge the connection between students and educators. In order to help her district transition, Anderson took learning the platform into her own hands to help educate her co-workers on everything Canvas.  

“I spent a lot of time learning it, and it was really exciting to help other people learn it and teach it,” Anderson says. “I began to see the advantages of using [Canvas] as I was teaching it. There are a lot of silver linings to the pandemic. I was able to start making video lessons on how to play the marimba for kindergarten to second grade. I spent a lot of time making them, and I had no idea if it would work.” 

But they did! The videos Anderson created for her students were so successful other music teachers all over the country began using them in their asynchronous curriculum, and students reaped the benefits. Anderson realized her video lessons were really working when on picture day, one of her virtual kindergarten students visited her classroom and performed every song, from kindergarten to second grade, perfectly. It was the student’s first time playing a real marimba.  

“I pretty much cried,” Anderson says. “All of that extra work was working.” 

Marimba Magic 

Anderson’s love for music, specifically the marimba, is evident not only in her teaching but also in her personal life. She is the founder of Mojo-Rimba, a nonprofit that spreads the love of marimbas and music through lessons, instruments, special transportation, and other resources.  

“The red tape of fundraising was really holding us back, so I started the nonprofit group with the goal to raise money,” Anderson says.  

Mojo-Rimba allows students to explore their marimba skills with Anderson as she teaches them how to perform. The nonprofit’s students are not the only ones who benefit from the marimbas, however. Anderson incorporates the playing of marimbas in her regular music classes and allows students to come before or after school to brush up on their skills.  

Marimbas are not inexpensive. With the help of fundraising, grants, and various award monies, Anderson raises as much money as possible to give her students experiences that would be out of reach without Mojo-Rimba.  

In 2018, Anderson was able to take a group of her students to New York City, some leaving Texas for the very first time, to perform at one of the most famous venues in the United States—Carnegie Hall. 

“What meant the most to me was that in one year, we raised over $65,000 to send these kids for free to Carnegie Hall in New York City,” she says.  

While in New York City, Tito Puente Jr., son of the famous Puerto Rican American musician Tito Puente, met, rehearsed, and even performed with Anderson’s students after seeing a video of them playing his father’s “Oye Como Va.”  

“It’s cool I was able to provide that once-in-a-lifetime experience for them, but I also love the fact that these kids learn that if they work hard enough toward something, they can achieve it,” Anderson says.  

When the idea of performing in New York came to Anderson, many of her students’ parents believed it would be impossible to achieve—and some were even upset with her for attempting to reach the goal. With all adventures, there are risks, and Anderson was aware of that. At one point, she had to make the decision to put down a $20,000 deposit without knowing if the group would have enough money to fund the rest of the trip. 

“Some might call it stupid,” Anderson says. “But we just threw the money down, and the rest of the money came through.” 

Giving Back to the Community 

On average, a small well-crafted marimba costs about $1,000, and larger marimbas cost about $2,000. Thanks to grants and donations from the community, Anderson has been able to raise over $100,000 to support Mojo Rimba—with some of the grant money coming from prestigious organizations, such as the Grammy Foundation, and corporations, including OfficeMax. Bonnie even received the H-E-B Excellence in Education Lifetime Achievement in Teaching Award worth $52,000 from the Charles Butt Foundation, and Butt himself personally donated $10,000 to Mojo Rimba after hearing Anderson’s acceptance speech.  

Anderson’s passion for music has allowed her to give back to her community through teaching, and she hopes to keep giving back after retirement. Once she retires, she hopes to open a marimba school that offers free lessons to those who can’t afford it.  

“Working with the community is a symbiotic relationship, and it’s way more meaningful than just a bunch of money the government gave us,” Anderson says.  

Anderson credits her inspiration for going above and beyond in teaching and her passion for music from people she has met throughout her life—even the second-grade teacher who discouraged her years ago.  

“[That experience in second grade] caused me to dedicate my life to saving children by using music as a catalyst for success,” she says. “Through music, all students can experience success at their own level.” 

Learn more about Mojo-Rimba at    


ATPE congratulates the following members for being named Regional Teachers of the Year

Region 9 | Secondary Texas Teacher of the Year
Jennifer Conner
Jacksboro Middle School, Jacksboro ISD

Region 11 | Secondary Texas Teacher of the Year
Stephanie Peters-Harris
Brock Junior High School, Brock ISD

Region 12 | Secondary Texas Teacher of the Year
Krystle Moos
Midway High School, Midway ISD

Region 13 | Elementary Texas Teacher of the Year
Melissa Garffer
Veramendi Elementary School, New Braunfels ISD

Region 14 | Elementary Texas Teacher of the Year
Marla Woods
Lawn Elementary School, Jim Ned CISD

Region 14 | Secondary Texas Teacher of the Year
Kendra Bevel
Haskell High School, Haskell CISD

Region 16 | Secondary Texas Teacher of the Year
Kimberly Irwin
Gruver High School, Gruver ISD

Region 20 | Elementary Texas Teacher of the Year
Bonnie Anderson
Miller’s Point Elementary School, Judson ISD (finalist)

Author: Haley Weis