Alison Smart is one of those rare elementary school music teachers, who is making a difference in the lives of more than 600 children each year. Unlike many schools where pianos (and piano instruction) have become nearly forgotten, pianos are a central element in her teaching process.

From kindergarten through sixth grade, kids file into Smart’s classroom, which boasts 18 full-sized electric pianos, each with its own set of headphones.

Smart established her classroom in 2005 when she started her first — and only — teaching job at Nelsonville-York Elementary, and since then has coordinated school plays and Christmas programs, all of which have been well received by parents and community members, Dalton said.

So, how does a teacher bring out music in kids as young as kindergartners, and as old as adolescents? It’s rapport, Smart said.

“It’s important to me that this classroom is a safe, comfortable place for the kids to be,” she said. “I have had these kids since they were in kindergarten, so we know each other pretty well, and I feel like that definitely helps, so I definitely start at that level with them as being someone they can feel comfortable around and trust, and they are going to feel like they can be themselves in this classroom.”

Not only does Smart build a strong rapport with her students, she also stresses the fundamentals of music, and takes time with the kids to explain everything, no matter how simple the notes in front of them may be.