Ainslie School music teacher Jess Copeman is one of four finalists from around Australia in the ARIA Music Teacher Award, the news delivered to her in person in the classroom by acclaimed performer Kate Miller-Heidke.
The Australian Recording Industry Association announced the finalists on Thursday, with the winner to be revealed during the ARIA Awards broadcast on Channel Nine on November 15.
Kate Miller-Heidke visited Ainslie School to reveal the news to Mrs Copeman, a music teacher at Ainslie School for the past eight years.
When Miller-Heidke told the students the nomination meant Mrs Copeman was "one of the best music teachers in the whole country", they screamed with delight and jumped up and down clapping.
While the announcement was revealed on Thursday, the meeting happened a few weeks back when Mrs Copeman was still pregnant. She recently gave birth to a baby girl called Tabitha.
Being nominated for the award and meeting a musical hero was a memorable double treat for Mrs Copeman.
"Meeting Kate was an experience I will never forget," she said.
"She was gracious and playful with the students and kind and warm to me.
"I was particularly impressed when she conducted the 110-piece Ainslie student orchestra and then played the tambourine with students.
"It was a highlight for me and the students to meet her and engage with someone who is an Australian superstar."
Now in its seventh year, the Telstra ARIA Music Teacher Award helps shine a light on the importance of music education and the essential role that music teachers play.
CJ Shaw, then a music teacher at Palmerston District School, was a finalist in the award in 2020.
The public helps to determine the winner. Votes can be cast for Jess Copeman here.
Mrs Copeman felt "privileged" to be a finalist and in the running for an ARIA.
"It's an honour to work in a school that has supported me to fundamentally change how music is delivered to ensure that every student has equal access to learn a pitched instrument and to support classroom teachers to deliver daily music lessons that are infused in every part of the curriculum," she said.
Kate Miller-Heidke said Mrs Copeman had "transformed" the music program at Ainslie School, including collaborating with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra to bring professional musicians in to work with students and teachers as part of their own development.
Mrs Copeman is also a committee member of the ACT Music Educators Network, where she collaborates with the University of Canberra on numerous projects to benefit students in the area, including the introduction of robot technology and developing an app that explores the connections between music and mathematics.
"Jess is doing it all," Miller-Heidke said.
Mrs Copeman said music at Ainslie before she started at the school was "a single music lesson once a week" and a band program restricted to 23 students.
"So my main aim was to equalise the playing field for every student," she said.
Now, every child at the school learned a pitched instrument. By the time they reached year five and six, the students could play in the school orchestra which they call the "imperfect orchestra" because "it's not traditional", not having a wind section but having out-of-the-box additions such as ukuleles.
Mrs Copeman said being nominated for an ARIA award was another example of how her approach to music education was being validated.
"Many schools across the country are unable to fund high-quality music programs or do not have the support or resources to enact a program," she said.
"To be recognised on a national level and showcase how, Ainslie, one government primary school can alter this narrative and demonstrate that, with the right supports, music education can be inclusive and integrated by mainstream music teachers into everyday classrooms while positively impacting all learning areas, especially numeracy and literacy.
"This demonstrates that music is not an addition to the curriculum but an essential part of learning."
Mrs Copeman, who grew up listening to all kinds of Australian music, from Archie Roach to Kate Miller-Heidke, said it was a "phenomenal feeling" to be recognised by ARIA.
One of her students said: "Jess has made sure every student gets the opportunity to play".
"I'm not very good at band, but I do enjoy doing it," he said.
The other nominees are from schools in the Blue Mountains and the Gold Coast.