Teaching music and drama in a small community has its problems, but Daria Mason, a teacher at Pine-Strawberry Elementary School, wouldn't have it any other way.
"In my room, I teach music and drama, pre-school through eighth grade -- general music, band, choir, strings and drama," Mason said Wednesday. "Funding is always a problem for the arts -- it's just a way of life."
The problem of funding an art program in a small, rural school was just one of the topics Mason tackled when she wrote an essay for the Arizona Small/Rural School Association.
Mason's essay was well received. She was selected to be one of five finalists for the association's state teacher of the year award. She'll attend a conference at the Hundai Casino Resort where she'll find out if she was selected for the state honor Oct. 1.
Mason was nominated by her school administrator, Kathe Ketchem. "She gives of time and talent unfailingly," Ketchem wrote in her nominating letter. "She embraces teaching with passion, laughter and hands-on activities. Her excitement and passion for learning and teaching are infectious."
Ketchem noted how Mason volunteered her time to present after-school and summer strings and drama programs at the school. "She dedicated additional time to fund-raising, writing grants, and creating instruments herself," Ketchem wrote. "She actually grew large gourds to make percussion instruments you'd believe were purchased."
Mason was asked to write an essay about her philosophy and what she had done to make a difference.
"It was about how I dealt with small school issues," she explained. "I picked a few issues to deal with and wrote about how far we are from cultural events. I have to take the kids down to the Valley. It's two hours down there on a school bus. The Phoenix Orchestra does a wonderful children's series, but it's a long way to go."
Mason said she is looking at ways to bring cultural events to the students and is trying different tacts. "I won't go into those until they happen," she said.
This school year, which began Aug. 16, is Mason's third at Pine-Strawberry. In her first year of teaching at P-S, she taught three days a week. She was also working on finishing up her teaching certification at NAU.
"I'm one of these 40-year-olds switching careers," she said. "I got my degree as a flute performer from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1984."
Mason performed flute and had private students for eight years, but chose education because she felt a calling to the teaching profession.
"I felt this is where I was meant to be," she said. "I did a lot of other things that were all art-related and music has always been 99 percent of what I've done with my life."
Mason said she also felt that being an educator would allow her to spend time with her children, who are now 6 and 4 years old.
"I finished college," she said. "I got married two years later and had my first child in 1993. Both my husband (Mike Buskirk) and I decided we wanted to be teachers. He teaches band and general music at the (Rim Country) middle school."
Her students seem to appreciate Mason. "Music's fun because our teacher makes it fun," said fifth-grader Erik Long.