LSPA director awarded as outstanding theatre educator by Georgia Thespians

Published 5:03 pm Wednesday, March 11, 2020

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Harris County Theatre Educator Valerie Longshore-Sargent attended the 2020 Georgia Thespian Conference in February with no plans to walk away with hardware.

By the end of the night, she was named the Georgia Thespians 2020 Outstanding Theatre Educator.

“I didn’t know anything about it,” Longshore-Sargent said. “All of a sudden, two of my students are called up on the stage, and they present this award to me. Next thing I know, here comes my husband, mom and dad. I was in total shock.”

The lifelong LaGrange resident and Lafayette Society for Performing Arts Director has been teaching in the Harris County School District for 14 years. The nomination and winning of the award came on the strength of two nominations.

“The impact Longshore has had on me, personally, goes well beyond the classroom,” said Emmie Roper in her nomination of Longshore-Sargent. “From her example, I have learned what a true leader looks and acts like inside and outside of the school setting.”

Roper said Longshore-Sargent is the epitome of a theatre educator, and one of the greatest role models she has.

“At Harris County High School, Valerie Longshore-Sargent isn’t just one of the best educators in the state of Georgia. She is our matriarch that binds the departments, events and people of our school,” said Miranda Carlsen, director of bands at Harris County High School.

Longshore-Sargent said there wasn’t a momentous occasion that caused her to be a better teacher. She realized she was trying to produce a product and create great shows, instead of focusing on the students as much as she should.

“I just turned my attention toward them,” Longshore-Sargent said. “I want to make them better people and better human beings because the world needs more of those.”

She said through theater, she hopes to give students perspective through someone else’s eyes, while teaching empathy. While learning, she tries to help her students understand why the characters make the choices they make, even if the actor wouldn’t make the same choice.

“Theatre is all about the communication itself, whether it’s between the playwright and the actor, the actor and the director or the production to the audience,” Longshore-Sargent said. “It’s all about communication. Theatre is that fine art that teaches you to make that connection with another human being, whether it’s fictional or not.”

Longshore-Sargent said while many teachers talk about that moment where they can see the light bulb going off, and a student gets what is being taught, she said she sees it with how her students interact with others. She said several teachers had told her that students in theatre can now give a presentation and have come “out of their shell” during classroom discussions.

“I call them the little victories, but I can see that they slowly, but surely, start to build confidence,” Longshore-Sargent said. “Whether it’s something small or deciding that ‘it’s my senior year, and I’m finally going to audition for a play.’”

Longshore-Sargent said she also sees with her students with LSPA during the Lafayette Theatre Academy Performance Camp in June. She said students learn quickly about decent human interactions and how important it is to learn how to speak to another person.

“It’s all in how you treat someone,” Longshore-Sargent said. “It’s all in how you relate to them, and it’s not about who gets the lead role, and it’s not about who has the most lines. It’s not about any of that. It’s how you are able to speak for someone else who until the words come off the page, don’t have a voice until you put a voice to those words.”

Longshore-Sargent said her students in Harris County have performed with the LSPA, and many of her LaGrange students have traveled to Harris County to support those actors during performances.

Longshore-Sargent said the award from the Georgia Thespian Conference is humbling, and she’s not a huge fan of talking about herself. However, she will say that her success as an educator is seen through her students.

“I have seen them go on to major in theater, I’ve seen some of them go on to become theater teachers themselves or to do Theater in New York. I’ve seen all those things,” she said. “And then I’ve seen the students who have just found success in life, and who have found their own voice because of theater.”

As for herself, she does occasionally act, most recently about a year ago in “Baskerville,” which is a Sherlock Holmes mystery. However, she said she’s more concerned about continually gaining professional development.

“I try to find those opportunities where I can learn from other people or be directed by other people while learning from there,” Longshore-Sargent said. “Each opportunity provides its own new avenue to learn, and so, I embrace all of those.”

Outside of theatre, Longshore-Sargent is a big college fan who cheers for the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday afternoons in the fall and winter.

She also has a side business where she repurposes furniture, which led to an appearance on “Flea Market Flip” on HGTV.

“I try to find ways to be creative that aren’t necessarily related to the stage,” Longshore-Sargent said. “I love to cook. I love to make things. I love to keep that part of my brain going.”