PG educator, students win big
By Sarah Steele Wilson
Oct 5, 2012, 11:38
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Stephanie Bishop, Jacob Bryce Kephart, Abria Humphries and Travis Kennedy received the inaugural “Discovery Award” from the Lowell Milken Center.
Heroes do the right thing, whether it’s a grand action or something as simple as standing with a classmate at graduation. Kendall Reinhardt was a white student who befriended the Little Rock Nine when Central High School desegregated in 1957. By standing by his new classmates, despite the intimidation he experienced, Reinhardt helped achieve something big by taking many small, but heroic, actions.
On Thursday, a Prince George Educator and three of the division’s students, current and former, won $10,000 for creating the play “Walk With Me” which tells the story of Reinhardt and the Little Rock Nine. That’s money they plan to use to make a big difference.
“We are going to use every piece of this money to expand the production,” said Stephanie Bishop, who, along with students Jacob Bryce Kephart, Abria Humphries and Travis Kennedy received the inaugural “Discovery Award” from the Lowell Milken Center.
Bishop wrote the play in the summer of 2011 after receiving a Lowell Milken Fellowship. She joined other educators at the Lowell Milken Center in Kansas to exchange ideas and develop a project celebrating an unsung hero, part of the center’s mission. Bishop thought Reinhardt fit the bill. When she returned to Prince George for a new school year, the play started to come to life.
“I’ve often told them, throughout this process, that there was something where the stars just aligned with them and with this production,” Bishop said on Monday, acknowledging Kephart, Humphries and Kennedy.
“It’s been an interesting process,” Kephart said at the awards ceremony. “It kind of fell into my lap.”
Kephart and Kennedy, two Prince George High School graduates Bishop taught during her 10 years in charge of the school’s theater program, happened to stop in to visit her on the day she was beginning to plan her production of the play.
“They are two people who understand the power of theater and truth telling and how it can change the world,” she said, explaining why she wanted to involve her former students in the production.
They were both instantly drawn to the material.
“It started as just getting the script and reading it and just having an instant connection to the content in the piece she had written,” Kephart said.
Bishop remembered Humphries, who is now a senior, from previous productions and knew she wanted her in the play.
“I’m really grateful for this award and I never knew, back in 2006 when I first came to sixth grade here, that I was going to be in this place as a senior in high school...” Humphries said.
Her first stage appearance was in a school production of “Seussical” in 2007 and she’s been acting ever since. “Walk With Me,” in which Humphries plays seven characters, including Gov. Orval Faubus, who deployed the Arkansas National Guard to keep the Little Rock Nine from entering Central High School, affected her like no other play she has ever done.
“This was the first play that actually gave me a lot of trouble and stress because of the history behind it,” Humphries said.
“It taught me a lot of life lessons,” she added.
Bishop and her students think that it can have that effect on other students.
“The process has been great and I think the best thing about it for me is the potential power it has to inspire, not just adults, but specifically students who are still in elementary school and high school even” Kephart said. “I think that’s why we’re so drawn to it, is because we all know, collectively, that it has the power to change people’s minds about certain things, certain problems that still exist in schools today. We have a really interesting opportunity to make a difference in that realm.”
Kennedy agreed, saying that the reaction to the play had already shown that to be true.
“I know this has the potential to have a big impact on students, and I know that because after some of our performances, different administrators or professionals who attended who lived through that time, their emotions and reactions speaking to us afterwards, it really showed me what this play means,” he said.
One of those administrators was Renee Williams, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction for the Prince George School Division. She was one of the first African American students integrated at Prince George High School.
“Those same emotions resurfaced for me during the play, and it brought closure to that time in history for me,” she said on Thursday as she presented the award.
She praised Bishop for her dedication as a teacher and her work with the school’s drama program, which, she said, went beyond teaching the students theater skills.
“The theater arts department taught students and people in our community about cultural diversity,” Williams said, noting she saw every demographic represented a the school in the plays Bishop and her students routinely brought to life.
She said those plays showed people something they needed to see.
“How the world would look if we all just worked together to make beautiful productions.”
Bishop first attracted the attention of the Lowell Milken Center in 2001, when she received the Milken Educator Award, which Williams described as “the Oscar” for teachers. That was followed by the fellowship last year and the Discovery Award this year.
“Stephanie Bishop is an incredible teacher,” said Norm Conard, executive director of the Lowell Milken Center.
He said that Bishop stood out, even amongst the nation’s top educators who regularly works with through the center.
“She’s one of the best that we have,” he said.
He said that the center started the Discovery Award as another way to show the power of unsung heros and rewards those who brought their achievements to light.
“Walk With Me was a wonderful, wonderful example of what teachers an students can do to really make a difference,” he said.
He said through many small actions not recounted in history books, Reinhardt became a hero and changed history, something he said the play high lighted.
“’Walk With Me’ is emphasizing that one person can make a difference,” he said.
J.E.J. Moore Principal Willie Elliott said that the award also emphasized the important role educators play in shaping young people’s lives and inspiring them.
“It emphasizes the importance of what we can give to each other,” he said.
Bishop already has an idea in mind for how she wants to expand the play. She hopes to travel to Arkansas with Kephart, Humphries and Kennedy to perform the play at Central Rock High School, with the remaining members of the Little Rock Nine and Reinhardt and his family in attendance.
“There are some great moments coming up for this play,” Conard said.