New Jersey Department of Education

2021 Honorees

Sarah Mae Lagasca

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Sarah Mae Lagasca brings out the best in her young singers at Newark, New Jersey’s Arts High School (AHS). Lagasca has reimagined the school’s vocal arts program, increasing student proficiency in music theory, composition, sight reading, vocal technique, music history, recording and production technology, marketing and branding, and personal artistic growth. Students in her Contemporary Voice and Recorded Vocal Music program have performed for audiences in Newark and beyond, including New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Newark’s 2020 census kickoff event at the Newark Museum of Art. When social justice protests erupted around the country, Lagasca worked with other music industry professionals to bring  together more than 160 singers and instrumentalists from schools across the U.S. for a virtual performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Kind, smart, funny, and light, she encourages them to bring their best selves and talents to each and every class. Lagasca’s students leave AHS with the skills, confidence, and dexterity to pursue careers in the music industry, or the knowledge and awareness of the importance of music in students’ lives   to become lifelong advocates for arts education.

Hardworking and solution-oriented, Lagasca has worked with AHS administration to build a technology-rich learning space for the school’s musicians. She is now working to beef up the school’s instrumental music programs, with a strong focus on 21st-century skills and state-of-the-art equipment to ensure students have the opportunity to learn and perform at the highest levels. During remote instruction—particularly difficult for performing arts classes—Lagasca served as a go-to resource for colleagues as they worked to keep students engaged. She found and shared a plethora of ways to keep students learning in her virtual classroom, including breakout rooms, emojis, hand signals, recordings, and tools like Music First,      FlipGrid and Soundtrap.

An accomplished singer, Lagasca leads by example, continuing to perform, coach privately and produce recordings. She conducted Newark’s All-City Choral Ensemble and organizes workshops with professional musicians through the VH1: Save the Music Foundation and GRAMMY Museum. Lagasca leads arts-related professional development for the district and created a professional-quality admissions promotional video, which has introduced AHS to thousands of potential students and families. She has performed with the Berlin Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and on recordings including Arturo O’Farrill’s “Four Questions,” which won the 2021 GRAMMY  award for Best Latin Jazz Album.

Lagasca earned a bachelor’s in music education from Westminster Choir College in 2013.

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