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BLOOMINGTON - Central Illinois music teachers won two of the top three annual honors statewide from the American String Teachers Association' Illinois chapter.

District 87's Karen Monhardt, who leads Bloomington High School's orchestra among other duties, was named 2005 Outstanding School Teacher. Deanne Bryant, who created and developed Normal-based Unit 5's string program, took the association's Distinguished Service honor.

Monhardt said she was surprised when the state group's president, Jim Black, called to announce she'd been named the group's top schoolteacher.

"It means so much because it's from peers. They know what we do. They understand all that's involved in the job," said Monhardt, 44, of Bloomington.

Strings teachers usually are orchestra directors who lead groups and also teach students violin, viola, cello and string bass, said Black, a retired Wheeling orchestra teacher.

Besides Monhardt's quality teaching, which has produced many talented musicians, the judging committee also took notice of the complexity of the job she has as a downstate unit district employee, he said.

For example, in her position with District 87, Monhardt finds herself in three to five schools a day.

She is one of two district orchestra directors. She leads fifth-grade beginners, the high school orchestra, and after-school fifth- and sixth-grade Junior Strings club.

Besides that she offers private lessons.

Bryant is considered a pioneer in Central Illinois' string programs, Black said.

She began string programs in all the Unit 5 buildings in the late 1960s. She headed the program for more than 25 years, retiring in 1993.

During those years she also led the Normal Community High School orchestra and led the group to a 1982 all-state performance.

In retirement, Bryant continues leading the Bloomington-Normal Youth symphony. She also works with Illinois Wesleyan University student music teachers.

She's sat on a number of boards, including the Pratt Foundation board, the Illinois High School Association's Music Advisory Committee, and the Illinois Board of Higher Education's music program evaluation team.

On the Net: American String Teachers Association, www.ilasta.org

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