OCC Graduate Finalist for Golden Apple Teaching Award

Photo of Zeb Holder
Mar 18, 2021

Zeb Holder wanted to stay connected with his music students when the COVID-19 pandemic forced school closures last spring.

While he couldn’t be with his students in person, the Olney Central College alum began recording and sharing video lessons three days a week through YouTube and his Facebook page, Mr. Holder’s Music Room.

“I saw a fellow music teacher was posting 30- to 60-second videos and I got the idea to put the whole lesson on Facebook,” said Holder, who teaches kindergarten through second-grade music at Lovejoy, Eunice Smith and Lewis and Clark Elementary in the Alton School District. “It gave the students a friendly face to watch when they couldn’t be at school. It was a way to continue music education not only with my students, but students across the U.S. Even if their school didn’t have a music teacher or their teacher wasn’t doing lessons virtually, I thought this would give students a place to come and learn about music. A lot of teachers are doing amazing things online. I just got in at the very start.”

Holder’s dedication and creativity led to his nomination and subsequent selection as one of 32 finalists for the Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching. A record-setting 708 nominations from 67 counties in Illinois were received for the prestigious awards, which are presented annually by Golden Apple, the leading Illinois nonprofit committed to preparing, honoring and supporting educators who advance educational opportunities for students.

“I was humbled and excited to learn I had been nominated for the award,” Holder said. “K through second music teachers can sometimes be forgotten as high school bands and choirs are more visible. It felt nice to be noticed.”

Holder says the videos are similar to his face-to-face lessons.

“We have movement and we focus on pitch and singing,” said Holder, who plays a ukulele and encourages students to sing along. “Everything that would go into a normal classroom lesson is in the video.”

With engaging visuals and his uplifting voice, it’s easy to see why Holder has attracted viewers from across the country.

Holder’s viewers include a former student, from his student teaching experience at Red Hill High School who watches with her children, and a former foreign exchange student Holder met at OCC who shares the videos with her students in Denmark.

“The videos have been well received,” Holder said. “People I don’t even know are watching them. In the early days of the pandemic, parents were looking for things for students to do at home. It seems people really appreciated that someone was out there creating content like this.”

Holder enjoys sharing his passion for music with his students.

“Working with kindergarten through second grade is so much fun,” he said. “We get to sing and play together just for the pure joy of music. Their energy feeds you as a teacher.”

Holder chose to attend OCC and begin his path toward a music education degree after meeting former vocal instructor Paul Sainer during a recruitment visit to East Richland High School.

“He encouraged me to come to OCC and I received a two-year vocal scholarship,” Holder said. “My birthday is in July. I was young for a high school graduate. I wasn’t ready to go to a university so OCC was a good opportunity for me.”

While attending OCC, Holder was active in student life, participating in choir, band, pep band and Phi Theta Kappa.

After graduating in 2006, Holder transferred to Eastern Illinois University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music education. In 2009, he started his career in Chester, Ill., where he taught K-8 music for six years.

In 2013, Holder earned a master’s degree in educational administration from McKendree University and met his future wife, Lexi. Holder accepted his current position in Alton in 2015 to be near her and the couple married the following June. The Holders are expecting their first child later this month.

Holder says he would encourage others to attend OCC.

“It did a fine job getting me ready. I have no regrets whatsoever,” he said. “At OCC, there was a sense of community. It was a smaller environment where I felt comfortable. I knew the people around me were interested in my success. When you feel someone has your back, that is a great feeling.”

Holder is especially thankful for the opportunity to work with and learn from Sainer, who passed away in 2008.

“Paul Sainer was an amazing man and an inspiration to his students,” Holder said. “His light and dedication continues to shine on in his students.”