The National High School Heart of the Arts Award is annually conferred to eight section recipients as well as one national recipient. The recipient must be an individual from a high school that is a member of an NFHS-member athletic or activity association.
From the time she was in fifth grade at Thompson Middle School in Newport, Rhode Island, Cailin Martin’s artistic talents stood out among her peers, as did her willingness to go the extra mile. After showcasing knowledge far beyond her years during class, she was often seen eagerly cleaning up students’ messes regardless of who made them.
Now a senior at Rogers High School in Newport, Martin has used course offerings and independent studies to develop her expertise in a variety of creative disciplines and has evolved her service mindset to address the needs of both her school and community.
In addition to the murals and props she has painted for each of the last three yearly musicals at Rogers, Martin adorned one of the school’s hallways this past summer for her senior project. That mural, which takes up more than eight feet of wall space, bears the words of civil rights activist Dolores Huerta – “Walk the street with us into history. Get off the sidewalk” – and serves to inspire those walking by.
During the same summer, Martin dedicated even more of her free time to be a digital art tutor for a seventh-grade girl in the area. Both girls enjoyed the interaction so much that they have continued their working relationship into the fall, obliging Martin to simultaneously balance a class schedule loaded with Advanced Placement (AP) courses. To this point, the 2019 AP Scholar Award winner has handled that challenge with relative ease, as her grade-point average ranks third in the senior class.
Martin’s most notable contribution came as a part of “Project Playhouse,” an initiative formed by a management class at nearby Bryant University to provide custom-built playhouses for children with serious and life-threatening illnesses. Martin’s role in the project was to depict a Transformers theme on one of the 9-foot by 9-foot by 9-foot structures, a task that required more than 21 hours of labor.
In addition to her work with Project Playhouse, Martin volunteered with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall in 2019 and the Norman Bird Sanctuary Harvest Festival in 2018 and 2019, and she has worked as a performer and set painter for the Rogers Theatre Company for the past five years.
Pieces of her artwork have also been included in community showcases, including the Irish History Exhibition at the Museum of Newport in 2017 and the Newport Yacht Club Art Show, where she received Best in Show First Runner-Up in 2019.
To read more about the award winners, please click here: https://www.nfhs.org/articles/nebraska-rhode-island-students-selected-as-recipients-of-spirit-of-sport-heart-of-the-arts-awards/
For the past 21 years, LaRaine Fess has been an educator, including the past 14 years as the theatre teacher at Beaufort (South Carolina) High School. She has been a seven-time “Teacher of the Year” nominee.
In her position as a teacher, Fess has used that platform to reach out to students in her district and to teach them about bullying. She has written two original plays for her theatre students.
In 2013, Fess’ then-third grade son was bullied on a school bus. Devastated by the event, Fess asked her students the following question: “Is bullying still an issue in school?”
Overwhelmingly, her students started sharing situations in which they had been a victim, a bystander and even a bully. After “Ripping off the Band-Aid,” Fess and her theatre classes made a promise to one another and to themselves to take a stand against bullying. They made a pact to never be a bully, a victim or a bystander. They promised that “When they would see something, they would say something.” With that promise in place, seven years later, more than 300 theatre students have been part of the solution as they have performed for more than 7,000 students.
Fess’ goal is to keep performing and talking so students will know what to do when they see bullying and what to do when they are a victim. Their positions were “If we stay quiet, then the bullies win. We are the only school in the state with an inhouse performance on such an important topic. Most districts bring in speakers to talk about this issue. Beaufort County allows its students to teach their peers about bullying.”
In 2017, they presented some of the show for the National High School League Convention in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Dr. Akil E. Ross, Sr., Chapin (South Carolina) High School principal at the time and National Principal of the Year, saw a few scenes and asked if they could come to Chapin and perform for the entire school of approximately 1,300 students. Two years later, they presented to high school athletes and athletic directors at the Leadership Convention in Columbia, South Carolina.
During 2016, 2017 and 2018, Fess and her theatre students were recognized by the Beaufort County Council for their work to take a stand against bullying. The Beaufort County Council proudly gave them a declaration of “Anti-Bully Month” last October.
Since 2012, the Rotary of Low Country has been a very active partner with Beaufort High School Theatre to help them take a stand against bullying. It has supported them in presenting programs at conventions in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Baltimore, Maryland. In addition, they work together to get out the message to all sixth-graders in the district. In 2017, Fess received the Paul Harris Fellow Award from the Rotary of Low Country.
To read more about the award winners, please click here: https://www.nfhs.org/articles/south-carolina-drama-teacher-and-theatre-students-selected-for-heart-of-the-arts-award/
At age five, Egan was diagnosed with Friedrich’s ataxia – a degenerative neuromuscular disorder that limits the individual’s mobility. Although confined to a wheelchair, Egan hasn’t let that prevent her from pursuing participation in theatre.
A freshman at St. Mary Academy-Bay View in Riverside, Rhode Island, Egan first joined The Bay View Players as a sixth-grader. Since that time, she has performed in countless theatrical productions. In many ways, she integrates herself into the cast without calling attention to her need for assisted mobility. Adding to her seamless integration into all aspects of the productions is the tremendous vision exhibited by director Christine Kavanaugh to incorporate her needs on stage.
While at first Egan’s chair seems like an extension of a character she’s playing, she often abandons it in favor of propping herself upon a variety of set pieces, such as a piano, a sleigh or a collection of trunks. To accomplish that, she is assisted by fellow castmates and a voluntary alumna aide. It is physically intensive work, but the focus is never on the equipment. In fact, only when the chair resurfaces later in a performance does the audience begin to appreciate the monumental coordination it takes for Egan to make costume changes, entrances and exits alongside fellow cast members. Egan’s smile, combined with creative choreography, helps to effortlessly integrate her wheelchair into the productions.
In addition to her exemplary 3.96 grade-point average and membership in the National Honor Society, Josephine Ross has been involved in many activities and clubs. Ross has participated in numerous performing arts activities, including debate, speech and choir. Among her many awards in this area are the Minnesota State High School League ExCEL Award and the Benilde-St. Margaret’s School Outstanding Character Award. However, it is the realm of theatre that could accurately be described as her true passion. Among her theatre accomplishments, she’s a four-year cast member of the One-Act Play, a performer in multiple school musicals and plays, and has received several Hennepin Theatre Trust Spotlight Theatre Awards. While those experiences and recognitions are significant, her unyielding desire to selflessly help others and to fight for their causes has been extraordinary. Following are three examples of Ross’ desire to help others. Several years ago, Ross met Rachel Olson when they were cast in the Chaska Valley Family Theatre’s (CVFT) production of “Sound of Music.” Olson’s parents – Chuck and Debra Olson – were born with hearing, but each lost their hearing as young children. While they always attended Rachel’s performances, they were never able to fully enjoy them due to their hearing disabilities. When Rachel performed in the CVFT’s production of “Seussical, the Musical,” Ross arranged for an American Sign Language interpreter to sign for the audience, thereby enabling Olson’s parents to truly enjoy their daughter’s theatre performance. During her freshman year, Ross read a news story about seventh-grader Jake Ross (no relation) of Forest Lake (Minnesota) High School who was bullied at school. A year later, as Josie thought about the CVFT’s upcoming “Shrek: The Musical” from her position of co-director with her father, Randy, it occurred to her that the show’s theme was partially about being bullied. That caused her to wonder if they could produce a show for elementary-aged kids that would not only entertain them, but would also raise their awareness of bullying. With those thoughts in mind, the CVFT put on a special show on March 4, 2015 for elementary-aged kids from Minnetonka and District 112 elementary schools in which they also invited Jake.
Under the guidance of Band Director Sherri Miller, the Dale County High School Marching Band selflessly supported rival neighboring school Skipperville G.W. Long High School by performing at its 2015 AHSAA (Alabama) football playoff games.
“Our band kids are very special,” Miller said. “They wanted to share their love for music – wanted to give back.”
During the past eight years, both high schools have endured numerous tragic losses.
Among them, Dale County Head Football Coach Todd Horne was killed in a car accident, and the school’s then-new band director Sean Miller (Sherri’s husband) was killed in a car accident on the same highway where Horne was killed.
Sherri – who had been Sean’s band assistant – was asked in February 2015 to take over the position of band director. Sherri and Sean had one child at the time and were expecting their second child in July. Her band students immediately showered her with love and continue to do so today.
Ethan Gray, who was the embodiment of the ideal high school performing arts person while a student at Chicago (Illinois) St. Rita of Cascia High School as he is self-taught in 11 different musical instruments, has faced health challenges his entire life.
Among those, he endured a stroke in April 2014 and has genetically inherited sickle cell disease and thalassemia, which among other things necessitates undergoing a monthly blood transfusion for the rest of his life. In addition, he experiences debilitating episodes known as “pain crisis” that can occur at any time when parts of his body are deprived of blood and oxygen due the sickling of his blood cells.
While music will always be a part of Gray’s life, his long-term goal is to establish a career with his other artistic abilities. He plans to pursue collegiate studies in game design illustration and animation, with the ultimate goal of one day drawing comic books for Marvel or D.C.”
Despite almost dying from a collapsed lung at age six and dealing with medical issues her entire life, Leia Schwartz of Miami (Section 3 Florida) Coral Reef High School has excelled in the performing arts, athletics and academics. Schwartz was also selected the national recipient of the “National High School Heart of the Arts Award”