In the spotlight

Published 9:20 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

When most folks think about high school competition, they think of football and basketball games, perhaps wrestling or field hockey matches. Even though there are a variety of different venues in which students can hone non-athletic talents competitively, the athletic events tend to take the spotlight.

At Nansemond River High School, however, there is a group of students, led by a dedicated and creative teacher, that has made the spotlight its own, both figuratively and literally. The school’s theater program has made a name for itself in recent years at regional and state competitions, regularly pulling in awards for its performances and playwriting.

During a recent conference of the Virginia Theatre Association, bards from Nansemond River took all three On-the-Spot playwriting awards, along with a variety of other awards. Under the leadership of Dr. Joleen Neighbours, NR’s drama teacher for the ninth through 12th grades, the Warriors have had a long string of successes under the spotlights of various theater competitions.

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Neighbours, whose credits include directing or producing more than 250 theatrical productions, musicals and concerts, brings a degree of commitment and energy to her duties at Nansemond River that exemplifies the qualities all the best teachers bring to their profession. If she were teaching mathematics or history, it’s unlikely she would be any less successful with her students. Considering that it’s probably harder to convince students of the applicability of the fine arts in their normal lives, it’s fortunate the school has someone who is so committed to the curriculum involved in teaching it.

Neighbours’ commitment to teaching students about the importance of the fine arts is evident in much of what she does, but it became crystal clear with her recent appointment as vice president of the Virginia Theatre Association. In that position, she will continue advocating on behalf of the fine arts in Virginia school systems, as she has done while serving as a member of the association’s board of directors.

Involvement in the performing arts helps students perform better in other areas, she maintains, especially when students participate in competitions. “It’s teaching teamwork and the effectiveness of working together,” Neighbours said recently. “They get the idea of camaraderie and teamwork. All of it is geared toward, ‘How does this matter in the real world?’”

Nansemond River High School is fortunate to have someone of Neighbours’ caliber and commitment serving on its faculty.