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High school teacher receives a Tony for dedication to musical theater

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE IN THE BAND")

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.