A hundred or so students in the Leavenworth High School theater program watched Monday's video with bated breath to hear what news actors from NBC TV's new drama "Rise" had for them.
When they heard that Leavenworth High School had won a $10,000 R.I.S.E. America grant from NBC and the Educational Theater Foundation, principal Christina Lentz shot off confetti cannons.
"It was very exciting for us, since we are the only school in Kansas to get this, and one of the only few in the Midwest," said Jennifer Morgan, director of theater for Leavenworth High.
The upcoming NBC drama "Rise" is about a high school theater department and its effects on a small town. It premieres on on March 13 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. R.I.S.E. stands for Recognizing and Inspiring Student Expression.
Leavenworth High was one of 50 schools across the country to have been selected from among thousands of applicants for the R.I.S.E award. To apply, theater students and Morgan sent a 500-word essay saying why their school should win and a video showing the program's impact on the community — the summer camp it does for elementary students and puppet shows at Children's Mercy's City Ronald McDonald House.
"Seeing the need school-by-school was both inspiring and a wake-up call," Julie Cohen Theobald, president of the Educational Theatre Foundation, said about the selection process. "The way these dedicated educators are impacting kids' lives, against the odds and without the necessary resources, is heroic."
The money Leavenworth won will go toward restoring the school's stage floor.
"That floor has gotten to the point where it is getting a little dicey," said Justin Bogart, associate principal.
The floor is so worn out because in the three years that theater teacher Jennifer Morgan has been at the high school, theater has grown tremendously. Instead of the normal fall musical and spring play other schools might do, Leavenworth High puts on three fall musicals and three spring plays.
"She added performances because she wanted to give all these kids a chance to participate," Bogart said.
"Theater has been a life saver for some of our kids," he said. "For some of them, they come to school because of theater."
Bogart said the theater department has been so successful that the Leavenworth School Board recently voted to extend the program to the middle school.
Jason Katims, creator and executive producer of "Rise," said in a statement he was 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 under-valued and under-funded."