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Kurn Hattin eighth-grader Brianna Coble signs a banner for music teacher Lisa Bianconi during a surprise reception for Bianconi on January 23. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)

WESTMINSTER -- Lisa Bianconi thought she might be in trouble. After all, how often does an educator get called down to the principal's office?

Kurn Hattin Homes for Children, where Bianconi works as the music director, appeared to be having some computer issues and Bianconi assumed she had an error on her report card. But soon after she got to the principal's office, Scott Tabachnik told her the matter was taken care of and suggested the two enjoy some ice cream in Higbie Auditorium.

"And then I walk down the hallway and I saw a camera and then I saw you guys (the media)," she said, revealing what gave away the surprise reception the staff set up for her to celebrate her placement in the top 10 finalists for the first-ever Grammy Music Educator Award. But what really gave away the secret, she said, was what appeared to be an impossibly silent Higbie Auditorium.

It was announced earlier this week that Kent Knappenberger, the music teacher at Westfield Academy and Central School in New York, will be the award's recipient, but Kurn Hattin banded together Thursday to show their support for the woman the students say is No. 1 in their hearts. Bianconi was one of an initial 30,000 individuals nominated for the Grammy award last year. She was still standing when that number was whittled down to 217 quarterfinalists in May and then 25 semifinalists in September. She was one of the three Vermont music teachers chosen as quarterfinalists and was the only New Englander in the top 10.

Bianconi entered the auditorium to a round of applause from her students and co-workers and co-executive director Connie Sanderson handed her a gift card and a scrapbook of media reports chronicling her Grammy journey.

"Everything that has happened is because of everyone in this room. I love all of you guys," she said while wiping away tears of joy. Her students then enjoyed the homemade ice cream sundaes.

Bianconi told the Reformer she feels like a winner even though she won't be flown to Los Angeles for the Grammys.

"This is the prize. These kids and this staff are the prize," she said. "This is a true family here. It's a big extended family."

One student celebrating Bianconi's accomplishment was seventh-grader Destiny Howell. She told the Reformer about all her music director does for Kurn Hattin.

"Ms. Bianconi is important to everything. She's like a second mother to me, personally," she said while picking at her ice cream. "She's our music teacher and I adore her. She also mentors many children here."

Chris Jordan, another seventh-grader, said he arrived on campus in April and Bianconi has helped transform his life and bring joy to it.

"Before I came here I honestly did not like music. I kind of hated it. But I came here and realized, 'Oh, this is fun,'" he said, adding that he is learning to play the trumpet. "And I never liked singing in front of a crowd and, now, I actually love it."

Co-Executive Director Tom Fahner said Bianconi's journey into the national spotlight has been great for Kurn Hattin and Thursday's reception was to celebrate her and thank the students and staff for all their help and support.

"First of all, it's been a real plus for our program as far publicity and recognition of what we've been doing for over 100 years at Kurn Hattin and allowing people to understand what we do as far as our mission in transforming students' lives," he said. "Music is a huge part of it and when you add all of the other programs we put together it makes a difference in these kids' lives."

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com; or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow Domenic on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.