Extraordinary Teacher Wins Prize for Excellence in Education

June 26, 2012 - Eric G. Muller, Humanities teacher, Drama Director, Chorus Director, English teacher, and advisor at Hawthorne Valley High School, NY, has been awarded the fourth annual James C. Kapteyn Prize. The James C. Kapteyn Prize was established in 2009 as a fund of Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation to honor the memory of the late James C. Kapteyn, a celebrated and beloved teacher of Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, MA. This annual prize is awarded to a high school educator who exemplifies excellence in “whole child teaching,” serving in multiple capacities within a public or private school community. Eric will be awarded $10,000.

The fund was established in honor of James C. Kapteyn who dedicated his life as a secondary school teacher to embodying the idea that, in the words of William Butler Yeats, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” Kapteyn passed away on January 16, 2007 at age 45 while playing indoor soccer with friends and colleagues from Deerfield Academy, his alma mater, where for seven years he had taught English, served as the sophomore class dean, coached girls varsity soccer and boys varsity lacrosse and lived in a boys’ dormitory with his family. The primary mission of the Fund is to honor James’ memory by recognizing and supporting educators, who, like James, offer extraordinary gifts to their students.

After Kapteyn’s untimely death, his best childhood friend, Adam Reeves, approached the Kapteyn family about creating a prize that would honor him and keep his legacy alive by awarding an annual prize to an outstanding high school teacher. They established a relationship with Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation who developed guidelines and sought candidate nominations from principals and heads of school throughout the region, which includes Berkshire and Franklin counties, MA; Columbia County and Northeast Dutchess counties, NY; and Northwest Litchfield County, CT. A selection committee comprised of Kapteyn family members and area residents with expertise in the field of education reviewed the applications. These included references from the respective heads of school, a colleague and a former student, as well as an essay on “Why I Teach” written by each applicant.

“Year after year the Kapteyn Prize Selection Committee is utterly blown away and moved to tears reading about the extraordinary teachers at work in our region,” said Kirsten Kapteyn, wife of James Kapteyn, chair of the selection committee and the Associate Director of Admission at The Bement School in Deerfield, MA. “Every nominee is worthy of the Prize and choosing between them is excruciating. What distinguished Eric Muller this year is the uncommon depth of his love and respect for teenagers and his "existential" devotion to his role as "midwife" in their education. His passionate, joyful scholarship and artistry also compel and inspire us, as they do his students and colleagues. And, somehow, superhumanly, and with beautiful humility, Eric manages to excel as a published novelist, poet, playwright, songwriter and musician--he plays countless instruments and incorporates his Renaissance Man skills into his classroom work!--meanwhile transcending the normal demands and expectations of the teaching life. We are thrilled and honored to award Eric this year's Kapteyn Prize.”

Eric Muller has just completed his sixteenth year at Hawthorne Valley High School where he has inspired creativity and enthusiasm among his students. Before teaching high school, Muller spent eight years teaching lower grade levels where he was able to pursue multiple interests. He taught almost every subject, and he would put as much emphasis on a PE class as he would his academic classes. He also put an emphasis on artistic pursuits, such as singing, painting, drawing, sculpting and producing plays. He continued to bring this same teaching style to his high school classes. From directing the tenth grade and senior plays for the whole class to traveling with the senior class to Italy, Muller has created life-changing experiences for his students, allowing them to appreciate the deeper meaning of their academic endeavors, value the gift of their education and discover a life-long appreciation for the arts. As an advisor, he makes contact with his students every day, checking on their academic progress, their general well being and helping them set goals for their future. Many students have gone on to say that he was the most influential teacher even beyond the high school level. Mr. Muller said it best himself, “Students need protection, love and truth,which will help draw forth the essence of their individuality, and, in turn, benefit the world. That’s why I teach.”

“When Kirsten Kapteyn told me that I had been selected for this year’s Kapteyn prize I wasn’t sure I had heard correctly, and did not quite know how to respond,” said Muller. “I was completely surprised by the decision and immediately thought of all the other wonderful teachers who are deserving of recognition. But most of all I was filled with gratitude and had this overwhelming feeling of having been touched by grace.”

The James C. Kapteyn Prize will be awarded at the Hawthorne Valley School on October 21. The next deadline for the Kapteyn Prize is May 31, 2013. Applicants must first be nominated by their principal or head of school. More information about the application process can be found online or by calling 413.229.0370. The Kapteyn Prize is an endowment of Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation.

Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation celebrates 25 years of building stronger communities and helping donors make a difference through charitable giving in northwest Litchfield County, CT; Berkshire County, MA; and Columbia County and northeast Dutchess County, NY. Each year, the foundation distributes over $7 million through grants and scholarships to nonprofits and individuals in the arts and education, health and human services and environmental protection. Berkshire Taconic is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity. You can make a difference. We can help.




About Hammertown
About Hammertown
Hammertown Barn Event Committee
Back Row: Lael Locke, Hila Richardson, co-chair Gloria Callen, Patricia Jean, Amy Gold
Middle Row: Susan Hillel, Katherine Martucci, Wendy Curtis, Palmer Irving, Beth Ledy
Front row: Diana Hurley, Joan Osofsky, co-chair Sally Berg
About Chatham
About Chatham
Photo of Chatham Middle School by John Dolan.
About Ellsworth Kelly
About Ellsworth Kelly
Ellsworth Kelly. Photo (c) Jack Shear
About Construct Inc
About Construct Inc
Construct, Inc’s Cultivate Community Project was supported by BTCF’s South Berkshire County Fund.
About Elders Services Meals on Wheels
About Elders Services Meals on Wheels
Elders Services Meals on Wheels Program supported by the William J. and Margery S. Barrett Fund for Adams, Cheshire and Savoy.
About Summer Sundays
About Summer Sundays
Summer Sundays at Six Street Festival supported by the Fund for Williamstown.
About Northeast Community Center
About Northeast Community Center
The Northeast Community Center is supported by BTCF’s Northeast Dutchess Fund.
About Teen Theatre
About Teen Theatre
The Teen Theatre Project at the Hudson Opera House supported by the Fund for Columbia County.
About UNITY
About UNITY
The UNITY Youth Leadership Program: youth receive training on leadership development - including communication, conflict resolution, diversity, planning and decision making is supported by the Robert and James Hardman Fund.
About Great Barrington
About Great Barrington
The Great Barrington Land Conservancy restores the Housatonic River Walk with help from BTCF’s Berkshire Environmental Endowment Fund.
About Mary-Ellen
About Mary-Ellen
Mary-Ellen’s artwork involves reusing and reconfiguring natural manmade materials. She was awarded BTCF’s Tupelo Award.