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High school teacher receives a Tony for dedication to musical theater


Roshunda Jones-Koumba has taught musical theater at Carver High School in Houston for 18 years. On Sunday, she will be recognized with a Tony Award for making theater a transformative experience for her students.

ROSHUNDA JONES-KOUMBA: You can be yourself. When you feel like you're not holding back, that is such a freeing moment. And sometimes you don't get to do that in high school. Sometimes it takes years before you can be your true, authentic self.


For those who don't know, Tony Awards normally go to the biggest performers on Broadway. This is for someone at Carver High, which is not the richest school. So Jones-Koumba has learned how to stretch a dollar. She combs thrift stores for costumes. She's borrowed props from other theater groups and has taken good care of what she has.

JONES-KOUMBA: 'Cause we keep a lot of stuff. We're like, OK, OK. We can repurpose this and reuse this. My technical director Jabari always - 'cause he said, I've used this piece of wood for 10 years, this platform (laughter).

MARTIN: So, clearly, she does not let limited resources keep her students from succeeding. She has led award-winning productions of "Sister Act," "Jelly's Last Jam" and "In The Heights."

INSKEEP: Her students even performed the musical "Ghost," which was based on the movie with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. For that one, Jones-Koumba says she coached students through some delicate romantic scenes.

JONES-KOUMBA: One of the big things about that - being able to tackle scenes like that is creating the safe space in the theater, so knowing that this is a safe place to be creative, a safe place to explore, that you're not going to be judged. And by creating that safe space, it opens them up to be creative.

MARTIN: Roshunda Jones-Koumba receives the excellence in theatre education award at the Tony Awards in New York.


ALEX BRIGHTMAN: (As Mr. Schneebly, singing) Keep on going, don’t stop. Take it over the top. Squeeze out every last drop. Make each note really pop. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.