CEDAR RAPIDS — Jefferson High School is one of 50 schools across the nation — and the only one in Iowa — announced Monday to win a $10,000 grant inspired by a new NBC drama.
NBC’s Recognizing and Inspiring Student Expression America organization awarded the grants in the run up to the March 13 launch of “Rise,” a TV drama about a man who takes over a high school’s mediocre theater department and gets the town to rally around it.
Lynn Jensen, director of theater at Jefferson High, said she learned of the grant opportunity in January.
“I just went to my theater officers and said, ‘We’re doing this, get busy,’” Jensen said.
To qualify, high schools with an existing theater program submitted a video and 500-word essay explaining why they should be awarded the $10,000. Additionally, a school administrator had to submit a letter of recommendation.
Jensen, Joe Link, the director of technical theater, and other faculty began writing the essay. They also began shooting some video featuring students and previously recorded performances.
Jefferson High’s grant application was one of nearly 1,000 sent in for the RISE America grant.
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On Monday, school administrators and faculty gathered students of the fine arts programs — including theater, band, vocal music and orchestra — in the auditorium under the pretense they were making an announcement for Jensen’s birthday. Instead, Jensen surprised the students with word that the school won the grant.
Students cheered, hugged and high-fived each other.
The reactions to the surprise were videotaped to be aired next week on NBC, along with other schools’ announcements.
Under the grant program, run in partnership with the Education Theatre Foundation, high schools are allowed to use the $10,000 to cover costs of their theater programs, including production expenses, equipment and classes.
A group of faculty and students will figure out this summer how to use the unexpected money.
Jensen said she hopes the theater program will be able to upgrade its facilities, liker getting some new auditorium chairs or lighting.
Currently. all of the program’s productions are financed through ticket sales or fundraisers. The rights to put on “Beauty and the Beast” this May cost about $2,000, and the set and costumes will cost another $1,000. Other plays cost almost $8,000.
“We fund all of our productions through gate,” Jensen said. “We aren’t given any money from any other source. The school doesn’t have any money for us, there isn’t money for anything.”
Jensen said being a part of the theater program that helped to win the grant will allow students to leave behind a legacy.
“It means that their time here made a difference, that they can leave something behind.”
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