Mara Tarantino-Morgan fell in love with music at an early age.
In the second grade, she starred in her school musical, "Ruben and Rachel."
"I was Rachel," she said. "That sparked it."
Now, Tarantino-Morgan teaches music at Horizon Elementary School.
"Sometimes I say to myself, I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this," she laughed. "It’s just so much fun."
THE MUSIC teacher is the recent recipient of the Shenandoah University Teacher of the Year award, an award created for top teachers in co-curricular fields. For the past eight years, the liberal-arts university has recognized top teachers in areas including arts, music, English as a Second Language and physical-education classes.
"These areas don’t get a lot of recognition," said Tarantino-Morgan, a Shenandoah University graduate.
The Horizon Elementary School PTO nominated her for the award. PTO member Shelly O’Foran suggested the music teacher for believing in her daughter.
Last year, second-grader Carrie O’Foran went to Tarantino-Morgan with a notebook titled, "Tunes in My Head."
Tarantino-Morgan flipped through the notebook and realized she was holding onto something special.
"My jaw dropped," Tarantino-Morgan said.
Tarantino-Morgan challenged her student to write a class song and she did. Carrie wrote the vocals and piano notes for "Our Class Song."
"We actually performed it," Tarantino-Morgan said. "It was good."
Later that day, Tarantino-Morgan received a letter from the National Association for Music Education, for a technology composition competition. Carrie O’Foran wrote her songs on the computer, which qualified her for the contest.
"I teach 700 kids, so I don’t usually sign up for things like this, but I thought of Carrie. It was perfect," Morgan-Tarantino said.
So she entered the then second-grader. And she won.
"She was the only elementary-school winner in the country," she said. "She’s still writing today. She got the spark."
ON TUESDAY, May 16, the School Board recognized Tarantino-Morgan for her award, at its bimonthly meeting.
School Board chairman Robert DuPree (Dulles) said he was so happy Shenandoah created the award.
"You are so under appreciated," he said.
After the School Board’s recognition, Tarantino-Morgan led more than 30 Horizon Elementary School students in song. After the mini concert, she wiped away a few tears and returned to her seat.
"You can feel the love in this room," said School Board member John Andrews (Potomac).
The music teacher has worked for Loudoun County Public Schools for 10 years, first at Sugarland Elementary School and now, Horizon.
When asked about Tarantino-Morgan, Horizon Elementary School Principal William Raye said he didn’t know where to begin.
"She has so many wonderful attributes," he said. "She is the type of person that truly loves what it is that she does and that is teaching children music. Because of her love for music, she brings the enthusiasm, the excitement and the love of learning to the classroom."
TARANTINO-MORGAN said her biggest challenge now is not in the classroom, but it is making sure adults, coworkers and parents realize the value of music education.
"The kids love it. I don’t have to win them over," she said. "I want to make sure adults realize how important it is."