Plant City High was one of 50 schools chosen out of 1,000 applicants for a $10,000 NBC R.I.S.E grant. The money will be used to enhance the school’s drama program.
Tears flowed early Tuesday morning in the Plant City High School auditorium after theater students learned they had won a $10,000 grant from NBC’s R.I.S.E America.
Through R.I.S.E America, which stands for Recognizing and Inspiring Student Expression, 50 schools were
selected out of 1,000 applicants to receive $10,000 grants to use for their theater programs. NBC partnered with the Educational Theatre Foundation for the nationwide award.
Plant City High students spent weeks creating a video and writing an essay to explain why they deserved the grant. It was one of only two Florida schools to receive the award.
“I cried and then I laughed,” said drama teacher Audrey Schmidt. “I was just in shock and so humbled and so proud of these kids and the effort they put into being kids deserving of a prize like this. That’s what they are. They’re so deserving and so humble and they care about this community. Then I just laughed because it’s Plant City. Who in Plant City gets national recognition?”
When Schmidt made the announcement from the auditorium stage Tuesday morning her students reacted in shock, with many reduced to tears at the news. Behind her, a banner from NBC saying “Congratulations PCHS Troupe 1449” hung above a table adorned with a large cake in their honor.
As the students rushed the stage, several walked behind the curtain, tears flowing from their eyes as they called their parents to tell them the news.
“I know this is going to get put to good use, I know we’re going to do incredible things with it,” Lexi Knotts, drama historian, said. “We just never expected to get this opportunity, but now that we have it we’re not going to waste it…theater teaches kids skills that I don’t think they could learn anywhere else. It teaches them camaraderie, it teaches them how to work together and function in a group, but also to love the people that you’re with.”
Schmidt said the theater program is the only reason some of her students come to school. She said the experience teaches them how to empathize with other people, which is “something our world desperately needs.”
Principal Susan Sullivan said it was exciting to see the program grow so quickly over the past few years. Theater
has only recently been offered as a class at PCHS and, under Schmidt, it is one of the fastest-growing courses available. Sullivan said plugging into a program helps students feel connected and supported, which ultimately helps them do better in classes.
Though budgets across the country are tight for the arts, Jason Katims, creator and executive producer of R.I.S.E., said offering the grants and directly impacting high school drama programs is a “dream come true.”
“It has never been clearer that the future of our country rests on the shoulders of the next generation of young leaders,” Katims said in a news release. “I am excited about the notion that the R.I.S.E. America grants will help support, inspire and nurture creative young minds throughout the country, especially at a time when arts in education is undervalued and under-funded.”
The money will be used to enhance the program and help them put on more shows that deal with a social issue, Schmidt said. This year, the group is putting on a dual-language production of “Aladdin,” which she said may have been key in helping them win the grant. She said the group is taking a risk on something no one else is doing, costing “the entire theater budget” to accomplish.
“They found theater and they found a place to belong, they found a home,” Schmidt said. “Now they don’t want to leave and they’re pulling more and more people in, which is how we’ve gone from one class to five in three and a half, four years.”