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Stoneman Douglas Drama Students Surprise Their Tony-Winning Teacher

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The fact that Melody Herzfeld, a drama teacher at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., was to receive an award for educators at Sunday night's Tony Awards was not a surprise.

The American Theater Wing, the sponsor of the awards for Broadway and theater around the country, had announced in advance that Herzfeld, who teaches at the school where a gunman killed 17 people on Feb. 14, would receive the education prize. Herzfeld has been credited with protecting 65 students by herding them into her small office for hours after the shooting erupted.

Herzfeld spoke before the show with Education Week's Sarah Schwartz in the Teaching Now blog.

But a surprise came during the Tony show on CBS. Herzfeld, who has taught at Stoneman Douglas High School for some 15 years and led more than 50 productions, had received the Excellence in Theater Education Award, in a pre-televised part of the ceremony.

Herzfeld was briefly recognized during the televised show as she sat in the audience at Radio City Music Hall. Then, the actor Matthew Morrison, who played the music teacher on "Glee," appeared on stage to introduce a group of 15 or so students from the high school, who appeared on stage and sang "Seasons of Love" from the musical "Rent."

Audience members teared up as one student hit the high notes of the lyric, "Shout love, give love, spread love. Measure, measure your life in love."

In her remarks during the pre-telecast, Herzfeld said that receiving the teaching award was among the defining moments of her life.

"As theater educators, we teach kids by giving them space to be critiqued, not judged," Herzfeld said. "By giving them a spot in the light, yet not full stage. Creating the circle of trust in which to fail. ... And also, how to begin again."

The teacher added that "we all have a common energy. We all want the same thing. To be heard. To hit our mark. To tell our truth. To make a difference. And to be loyally respected.

"We teach this every day in arts class. Imagine if arts were considered core, a core class in education."

She closed by saying, "MSD Strong." 

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