Terry Eberhardt may no longer teach at Marriotts Ridge High School, but a surprise visit to his former choral students Monday afternoon made it appear as though he never left the school he helped open nine years ago.
Within minutes of walking into the choir room, Eberhardt was behind the piano leading the 28-student Madrigal Singers through a piece they've been working on for weeks.
In between his demonstrative arm motions and booming renditions of what he expected from his performers, Eberhardt and students alike seemingly couldn't stop smiling during the 15-minute session.
"I'm really glad he came back, even for just one day, one song," said Kyle Cochran, a senior who first started working with Eberhardt the summer before his freshman year.
Colleagues at Marriotts Ridge are equally as glowing when talking about their former colleague, describing Eberhardt — who is now the county's instructional facilitator for music— as an enthusiastic and passionate instructor whose personality is infectious.
"Even if he's going to be involved in a food drive, you know it's going to be the best food drive," said Lynn Rashid, a media specialist at Marriotts Ridge.
Eberhardt has previously been recognized by his peers for his work in the classroom — he was named Howard County Teacher of the Year in 2008 — but he's now one a 25 semifinalists for the 2015 Grammy Music Educator of the Year Award.
It's an honor that has Eberhardt feeling "very blessed and very fortunate" to not only be representing the Howard County Public School System, the state — he is the only semifinalist from Maryland — and his students.
"In recognizing me, I think we're really recognizing those students," Eberhardt said. "It's more about them than it is about me."
Marriotts Ridge Principal Addie Kaufman agreed, saying that there is a tremendous sense of pride with Eberhardt's students on his nomination for this award.
"As much as he helped them grow, they [students] helped him grow as an educator.
Nominated for the award by Helen Kinigopolous, a speech pathologist at Harper's Choice Middle School, Eberhardt first learned he was a quarterfinalist in March.
After continuing through the application process, which including submitting videos of his lessons, he learned that he was a semifinalist on Sept. 17.
"I never in a million years would have guessed that I would be in the semifinals," he said.
When Eberhardt started at Marriott's Ridge part time, the choir class started with seven students until the program grew to 165 students when he left last year for a job in Central Office.
His choral students have performed at the White House, for the governor, at the Strathmore and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Also the fine arts team leader, it's a point of pride for Eberhardt that about 600 students — half of the student body — is involved in various arts programs.
"I think having that much of an impact on a school climate is awesome," he said.
The Grammy award recognizes music teachers from kindergarten through college classrooms in public and private schools. After the nomination process this year, more than 5,000 teachers completed applications to enter the contest.
From there, the entries were narrowed down to 222 quarterfinalists and in September, the Grammy Foundation announced the 25 semifinalists, including Eberhardt.
The 10 finalists will be announced in early December and the award will be presented in February. The winner will be flown to Los Angeles to accept the award, attend the Grammys and receive a $10,000 prize and a $10,000 grant for their school.
The other nine finalists and their schools will each receive a $1,000 award.
After nine years of teaching music and directing the choir program at Marriott's Ridge, Eberhardt started as
the county's instructional facilitator for music in July, working with teachers to develop and implement music curriculum countywide.
"For me, it was trying to find a way to impact more kids," Eberhardt said of his new position, although he admitted it was a difficult decision to leave the classroom. "This allows me to have some say in what instruction looks like for 56,000 kids, which is huge."
Eberhardt, a graduate of DeMatha Catholic High School, studied at the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University before receiving his master's at the University of Maryland College Park and his administration certification at McDaniel College.
"I feel really strongly about Maryland education and the impact that we have on kids throughout the state and in Howard County, the best of the best," he said.