St. Helens choir teacher in quarterfinals for national award
A St. Helens teacher was one of three educators in the state, and one of nearly 190 nationwide, to be chosen as a quarterfinalist for a prestigious music educator award.
St. Helens High School choir teacher, Eric Stearns, was named as one of 188 quarterfinalists for the 2019 Music Educator Award, which is presented annually by the Recording Academy and Grammy Museum. More than 2,800 teachers were nominated for the recognition this year. Teachers can be nominated by students or coworkers, or can nominate themselves.
Stearns said he was nominated by a colleague for the award.
"It's quite an honor," Stearns said of the nomination. "I'm humbled, and at the same time very proud of the accomplishments I and my students have been able to achieve."
The annual Music Educator Award is granted to an instructor who has made a remarkable impact on students' lives in the realm of music education. The winner of the award is invited to attend the 61st annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in January.
Stearns has been teaching choir at St. Helens since 2016 and has helped lead the program through several changes, including a renaming and restructuring effort that has given the group a renewed sense of direction and pride in its work. The choir has earned various honors and awards at choir competitions at the state level under Stearns' direction.
Additionally, enrollment in the program has nearly doubled, Stearns noted, and student retention from the middle school into the high school program has increased. At the start of the 2016-17 school year, roughly 74 students were in choir, but going into the fall, nearly 160 are signed up and Stearns is working to set up college course credit through Pima Community College as well.
"The accomplishments, the accolades, the awards, those are all wonderful things and I'm grateful that my kids get to have them, but at the end of the day, what I want for them to do is to love singing, to love music — and that's happening here," Stearns said.
Before going into teaching, Stearns worked as a professional singer and conductor for nearly 20 years. Learning skills in the professional world of musicianship has allowed him to teach his students at a higher level and to instill a sense of professionalism in them when it comes to music.
"I see my students as young professionals," Stearns explained. "I want to teach them that they can be making music at a professional level whatever age [??] they're at, whether it's sixth grade, or 12th grade, or at age 72. Making music can be done with excellence no matter what age they're at."
In September, 15 semifinalists will be named who will each receive a $500 honorarium and a matching grant for their school. From that pool, 10 people will be selected as finalists who will each receive a $1,000. Educators selected to be in the top 10, each receive $1,000, and matching grant for their school. One grand prize winner is selected from the top 10 to receive the Music Educator Award and is honored with a trip to Los Angeles to attend the 61st Grammy Awards and a variety of other events in January.