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Sugar House Journal

Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts’ teacher receives national recognition

Jul 20, 2021 10h43 ● By Lizzie Walie

Katelin Ruzzamenti Knight is the recipient for this year’s Inspiring Teacher Award. Her win comes on the heels of her former student Ethan Kelso, who received the Best Actor Jimmy Award in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Katelin Ruzzamenti Knight)

By Lizzie Walje | [email protected]

Katelin Ruzzamenti Knight still vividly remembers the evening in 2019 when she found out her student, Salt Lake School for the Performing Art’s Ethan Kelso, received the prestigious National High School Musical Theatre Award (also known as the Jimmy Award) for best performance by an actor. Knight was on a camping trip with her parents but still managed to get her laptop connected in time to hear of Kelso’s win. 

The Jimmy Awards, named in honor of the late producer and theatre owner James M. Nederlander, take place every summer, where promising students from across the country participate in a week-long program of masterclasses and workshops in New York City. The apex of the event occurs on the final evening when a ceremony is held to honor the participants and crown winners. The students who are chosen to participate in the week-long program are typically winners of awards and recognition at the regional level. Kelso beat out a talented pool of national candidates to become the year’s best actor. As Knight recalls, “when we found out he won that evening, I probably woke the entire campground up.”

A year later, the 2020 Jimmy Awards would be canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, causing a staunch departure from the celebratory mood that encapsulated Kelso’s win just a year prior. “Kelso’s win was truly a win for the entire school. We hosted a party for him, where all of our students got to celebrate his accomplishment. Because when it comes to the arts, musical theater, in particular, it takes a village.” 

Like most educators, Knight found herself in a difficult position when classes suddenly went virtual as the pandemic carried on. Teaching any subject in those parameters is a challenge, however, Knight had the added stress of teaching musical theater which hinges exclusively on dance and singing. 

“I’ll admit there were times I couldn’t quite hear certain students,” Knight said. “You’re dealing with a whole class of students, who all have [different rendering speeds] on their computers and devices. Some of them were in closets, basements and attics. I myself was in a five by five space in my apartment.” It was the most challenging year of Knight’s five-year teaching career. 

She powered through the perils of teaching through the pandemic by showing up each day. “I gave my best every day knowing many of these kids needed a creative outlet more than ever. It was a privilege to be able to provide that space.” 

The silver lining came when Knight found out she would be receiving the Inspiring Teacher Award in 2021. Knight and fellow teacher Benjamin Pesenti (of Elmont Memorial High School in Elmont, New York) taught 2019’s best actor and best actress recipients Ethan Kelso and Ekel Ukegbu, respectively. Typically, the educators would have received these awards in 2020, however, due to the pandemic, the awards were canceled. 

With an history working everywhere from Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts to the critically acclaimed Cedar City Shakespeare Festival, Knight has performed on prestigious stages. She gives a lot of credit to those around her at Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts, an institution she feels cares deeply about artistry and student welfare. And, Knight applauded the Jimmy Awards for putting a spotlight on the teachers who help foster student talent. 

“When I found out I had won the [Jimmy Award] I felt humbled,” she said. “It was a truly humbling experience.”