When Jennifer Morgan joined the Leavenworth High School staff four years ago as a theater teacher, she created a five-year plan to take the program to a higher level.

And the program appears to be well on its way to that level.

The Educational Theatre Association recently announced that the theater department won the Theatre in Our Schools Impact Award for their student theater advocacy, outreach and performances at their school, in their community and at the state capitol.

“We came in second place last year,” Morgan said of the exclusive national honor. “This year we set a goal to win.”

Morgan also announced that Leavenworth High School is one of four schools in the nation to receive the Outstanding School Award, given annually to high schools with theater programs that exemplify and promote high standards in educational theater.

“That award takes into account the theater curriculum, community impact and outreach and the quality of the productions,” Morgan said.

The students produce 12 shows each year in addition to leading theater camps for elementary school students and performing for hospital patients. The troupe also advocated for the creation of a drama program at the middle school level.

In 2018, the theater program was one of only 50 in the nation to receive a R.I.S.E. America grant for $10,000 from the television network NBC and the Educational Theatre Foundation.

The grant covered a portion of the cost for a new stage floor in the high school auditorium. The school district provided the rest of the funding to pay for the floor upgrade.

Morgan also announced that the program has received four nominations for the Blue Star Awards for last fall’s musical “Newsies.”

Award nominations were for Community Impact, Outstanding Costume Design and Construction Tier II, Outstanding Scenic Design and Construction Tier II and Outstanding Actor in an Ensemble Role. That actor was Brian Bartenslager, who played the character Romeo in the musical.

The Blue Star Awards program, sponsored by Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri, is similar to Broadway’s Tony Awards in which high school theater programs in the Kansas City area are recognized for their theater productions and stagecraft.

The theater company sends professionals to area high school productions to evaluate the stage performances.

Lansing High School earned seven nominations for the Blue Star Awards for its presentation last fall of “James and the Giant Peach.”

The Lansing theater department earned nominations in Outstanding Costume Design and Construction Tier I and Outstanding Hair and Makeup Design. The theater department also received nominations for Outstanding Actress in a Supporting Role (Megan Darley), Outstanding Actress in a Support Role (Paige Padgett), Outstanding Actor in a Feature Role (Will Snodgrass) and Outstanding Actress in a Feature Role (Heidi Barber). Padgett also was nominated for the Rising Star Scholarship.

“This is a huge honor for our program, going from three nominations to seven in one year,” said theater teacher Casey McCord in a press release.

The winners will be named May 23 at the Blue Star Awards ceremony at the Starlight Theatre.