Financing at Pelham High School

Published 2:34 pm Thursday, March 24, 2016

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

“READ THIS!” PHS Theatre teacher Jamie Stephenson shouted holding a letter in front of me. “We won! We won the Alabama Arts Education Initiative Grant!”

“What?” I asked—too stunned to comprehend and too excited to read the shaking letter. Stephenson had flown into my fourth period class like a tornado had chased her in the door. All 29 advanced junior English students in the classroom had their eyes on her.

Jamie Stephenson shows off the letter naming Pelham High School to receive a $20,000 grant for Arts Education. (Contributed)

Jamie Stephenson shows off the letter naming Pelham High School to receive a $20,000 grant for Arts Education. (Contributed)

“We won $20,000 for Arts Education at Pelham High School!” Stephenson shouted.

“Of course we did,” I laughed and turned to my students.

“Mostly Mrs. Stephenson won this grant,” I said. “I was a proof-reader, cheerleader, sounding board and part-time collaborator.”

“Jerry drove this grant to the post office,” Stephenson said. “Remember that awful day when it was due. Everything went crazy. Tell your husband he’s an awesome driver!”

Stephenson’s excitement had all of us grinning. A theatre teacher with a theatre renovation in progress, she was living with noise, dirt, displacement and a deep yearning for a finished auditorium. Teaching in the midst of construction creates stress.

“You know what this means?” Stephenson said. “Mama Yeye is comin’ to Pelham!”

Stephenson first mentioned Mama Yeye to me over five years ago. This talented choreographer, dancer, and storyteller had captured Stephenson’s attention at a theatre conference as someone who could add new energy to both our writing and theatre programs.

“She’s amazing. We need her,” Stephenson informed me annually.

While I knew Stephenson’s idea was inspired, I also knew our budget. Never one to be deterred, Stephenson decided to find funding. She found the funding, worked beyond overtime, recruited required team members, had my husband recruiting team members, gathered their signatures, had my husband gathering signatures, emailed me persistently, coped with frightening family health issues, and to culminate her efforts—she won $20,000 for Arts Education in Pelham, Alabama.

At Pelham High School, I am surrounded by amazingly talented and hard-working students, committed coworkers and also—a few visionaries—like Jamie Stephenson. We are richly blessed—and Mama Yeye is coming to town!