Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation announced in a media release that Dr. Tasia Cheng-Chia Wu, a music teacher at Berkshire School in Sheffield, Mass., has been awarded the 12th annual James C. Kapteyn Prize for excellence in teaching in an unprecedented year for the region’s educators and students. She will receive a $10,000 award for study or travel to enrich her teaching, and the school will receive a $2,000 grant in her name.

Wu joined Berkshire School’s music department in 2000. In addition to teaching music theory and advising students, she directs the chamber orchestra program and female a cappella ensemble, organizes a visiting artist series, and serves as music director and plays piano for musical theater productions. Under her leadership, the school’s music program has grown to include courses that focus on chorus, chamber music and music theory. She is a source of support for international students, who refer to her as “mom.” She launched a popular Lunar New Year event featuring food, decorations, presentations and fireworks to celebrate the heritage of students who are often thousands of miles from home.

Colleagues, students and parents describe Wu as a passionate, innovative, endearing and selfless instructor who is also a gifted musician and an award-winning composer and director. “Dr. Wu is more than a teacher—even more than a mentor,” wrote recent graduate Logan Renneker. “She is an attitude. Her generosity, confidence, love of hard work and, most of all, kindness are imprinted upon every student she touches.”

Head of School Pieter Mulder credits Wu for enriching the experiences and amplifying the voices of the school’s international students. In a letter nominating Wu for the prize, he wrote, “She has been a critical person in the lives of so many students experiencing Berkshire School through the lens of another language and culture. To have Dr. Wu there for them has been incalculably important.”

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Current student Hamda Hussein of Somaliland in East Africa says she views Wu as a role model and parental figure. “Dr. Wu has been making sure that I feel at home and that my identity and culture are recognized. She organized an advisory dinner where we cooked Somali traditional food. Those kinds of moments, which I am very grateful for, taught me the art of appreciation and the importance of welcoming people with love and kindness.”

In a written statement, Wu says she teaches because she believes in the power of music and its capacity to impart broader life lessons. “Learning music requires building discipline, keeping an open mind, using creative thinking and communicating with others effectively. I feel blessed to be able to share my passion for music with students who are willing to take risks and try new things.”

The James C. Kapteyn Endowment Fund was established at Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation in 2009 to honor the memory of beloved teacher Jamie Kapteyn, who taught English and coached soccer and lacrosse at Deerfield Academy, the Williston Northampton School and Cushing Academy. He dedicated his 20-year career to embodying the idea that, in the words of William Butler Yeats, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." The fund’s primary mission is to honor its namesake’s memory by recognizing and rewarding extraordinary educators in Berkshire Taconic’s four-county region of northwest Litchfield County, Conn., Berkshire County, Mass., and Columbia County and northeast Dutchess County, N.Y., as well as Franklin County, Mass.

Principals and heads of school may nominate an outstanding high school teacher who meets the vision of the fund. Nominations for next year’s Kapteyn Prize are due Feb. 9, 2021. You can learn more and view a list of previous Kapteyn Prize recipients by going here.

Photo Image: Tasia Cheng-Chia Wu courtesy of Berkshire School

(information sent to WSBS from Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation for online and on-air use) 

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