My name is Elizabeth Hines and I am a teacher.
That sounds like the opening to an AA meeting, but sometimes I feel like that’s how people look at me based on where I teach.
I teach theatre at Meridian High School and have for the past seven years. It’s funny really, I can travel all over the state and no matter who I tell that I teach at Meridian High, I always get some sort of negative response. I have had people ask, “Aren’t you scared?” They’ll say things like, “Oh ... Really? Well, that’s ... Wow.” I’ve even had them wipe their hand off, after shaking mine, like I just passed them some horrible disease.
I will tell you this: I am a proud teacher. I am not scared of my students, I do not feel threatened. I am not ashamed of where I work, and I definitely do not have a disease because I work here.
Do you know what it means to have promise? Promise is grounds for feeling hopeful about the future. This is how I feel about my students. My students are absolutely amazing. So amazing in fact that we do the unexpected, we do things that people did not think possible, we make and perform art.
On March 28, the MHS Wildcat Players performed their sixth musical under the direction of myself and Mrs. Jennifer Davis. This year’s musical, “Doo-Wop Wed Widing Hood” by Charles Lovette, was a raging success and one of our best performances so far. The drama department at MHS has grown dramatically over the years, and to quote long time supporter Elliott Street, “Ya’ll are finally a program.”
No words could be more true.
When I started at MHS in 2006, I had 4 cents in my theatre account, a theatre that was not – and is still not – up to par, no sound or lighting equipment, no costumes or set pieces ... And, I was expected to produce a show.
Unfortunately, we were not able to do a show that year, but we were able to promote the department and prepare for the next year when we would take the play “Don’t Say Macbeth” to competition and present our first musical, “School House Rock Live! Jr.” This was the start of something wonderful! We saw something in these students that most people had not seen before, we saw promise.
These students needed something different and that’s what we were. We gave them something to do, something to put their energy into. Over the years we have presented multiple shows for competition, including student-written original pieces and five other musicals. It has not always been easy, but we have made it work each and every year to make sure these students have the opportunity to be a star.
While the Wildcat Players have not advanced at competition, we have received a rating of “Excellent,” had multiple All-Star Cast members and one “Best Actress” award. This year was no exception.
We took “Stressed” by Alan Haehnal to competition. “Stressed” is a four-person show and a very difficult piece to perform. It was directed by Chance Anderson, a junior at MHS, and since I was on maternity leave, I was not able to help with the show until the week of competition – also the week I returned to work. None of these students had been exposed to theatre competition, so it was a new experience for the entire cast and a new experience of directing for Chance. While they were all nervous, they got on stage and did an amazing job. Kavin Gibbs, a sophomore, was awarded a place in the All-Star Cast.
That was not the last time this show was performed. At the first of the year, the MHS Wildcat Players performed “Stressed “at the Temple Theatre for the Angel’s Theatre Birthday Bash. That was a new opportunity for us. Some of my students have never stepped foot in the Temple Theatre, much less performed on the stage! All I heard was “Mrs. Hines this is the most awesome thing ever!” or “I am so excited! This means we’re legit!”
These students work hard and deserve to feel like this. My students look for the good in things – as long as you give them that choice.
While our theatre space is still not the best, we do the best we can with what we have. In March, we were getting ready for our spring musical, “Doo-Wop Wed Widing Hood.” Each year, The MHS Wildcat Players invite the Meridian Public School District elementary schools and local pre-schools to come and view our performance and get to meet the cast after the show. This year we performed for 300 elementary and pre-school students. Those kids were GREAT! They were dancing and giggling the entire show.
On the night of March 28, we performed for the community and, for the first time, had live music as the MHS Wildcat Band performed as a 12-piece student orchestra. This was the first time in 40 years there has been a pit to accompany the musical.
For that night show, we had more than 450 in attendance – our biggest audience ever! In fact, it was so many people that we had to delay the start of the show almost 30 minutes just to make sure that everyone got inside.
During that performance, the principal of MHS, Mr. Victor Hubbard, was in attendance. My students were told before the show where he would be sitting and they did not take it easy on him. They incorporated him in as much of the show as they could. They got him up to dance in the aisles and also serenaded him during one of the musical numbers.
Mr. Hubbard was, and is a real trooper. He got up and moved and danced all over that auditorium with the students – and he is not a bad dancer at all! My students now have a totally different level of respect for him. They now understand that he is there to help and support them in everything they do. Many of them would have never known that without being a part of this show. After the musical ended, I asked several of my students to write down a few sentences about their experience in theatre at Meridian High School. These are some of the comments I received:
“I learned new things about new people I didn’t know. Overall, it was the best experience and I will do it again next year.” Timesha Anderson
“To see the expression on the little kids faces and to hear them laughing was just beautiful. It took a lot of practice and hard work, but it all paid off in the end. In fact, I really hated for this experience to end. I met new people and made new friends.” LaPreshia Miller
“The question I ask myself over and over is, ‘Why have I not done this before now?’ I waited until my senior year to become a part of something so amazing! To all the people who were in attendance, Thank you so much for coming to support us. It meant the world to perform in front of a full house.” Ali Acord
These students have so much talent, but most people in our community have no idea. These kids work so hard and do amazing things every day. I hate that people think of Meridian High School as a “bad school” based on what happens in our community.
The students here deserve a chance to succeed. I have students who are getting ready to audition for AMDA (the American Musical and Dramatic Academy), have been accepted into the Mississippi School of the Arts, who are accepting scholarships to major universities, and are graduating “Highest Honors” while participating in theatre, band and taking nine AP (Advanced Placement) courses. Some have been offered full scholarships for theatre.
IN fact, some of my former students are doing GREAT things. I have one who has been on the TV show “American Horror Story Coven” (FX original series) several different times, while being a college student and performing in the theatre department there. Another has remained very big in the music department and music community within the state, and more that are constantly surprising me every day with their achievements.
Now that we have ended our musical season, we are gearing up for another show. We are preparing to do our first annual dinner theatre in the Wildcat Café at Ross Collins. The show is “Nick Tickle, Fairy Tale Detective” and it will be the final piece of our annual Believe in Blue Day on May 2.
The students at Meridian High School are no different than students at other schools – unless you consider all the obstacles they have had to overcome both inside and outside of our school and the judgments based on where they go to school or live.
I am proud to be a teacher at Meridian High School. The administration supports all of programs on our campus and makes sure there are positive activities for all MHS students to be involved in. These students are full of promise. They have so much to give, if people will just give them a chance. They deserve at least that much.
We hope to see you all on May 2 for Believe in Blue Day at MHS. This school and the students need the support and the physical presence of members of our community. They need something to strive for and they need to know that what they are doing is important. The community needs to see what good things are happening at MHS. Without the support of the community, our children cannot thrive. They cannot fulfill their promise.
As a teacher, it is my job to support these students – both in class and around campus. To be honest, if I was not teaching at Meridian High School, I would not see the students the way I do. I would assume the same as everyone else. I have not seen one student on this campus who does not have some promise.
During my experience here, I have seen amazing things from these students. If they can do this with just the support of their teachers, imagine what would happen if the community supported them the same way. The students at Meridian High School need the community’s help to be able to fulfill their promise. Every student here has the potential to be great, but they cannot grow without support.
“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
• Elizabeth Hines is a Meridian High School teacher and Wildcat Players sponsor.