WATERVILLE — Students and staff members at Waterville Senior High School learned Thursday the school has received a prestigious national award for its performing arts programs that is given to one high school a year out of about 20,000 in the country.

The National Federation of State High School Associations’ Performing Arts School of Excellence award, presented during a surprise ceremony at WSHS, is only the eighth given to a school since it was introduced in 2016. WSHS is the smallest school to have received the award.

The award “is truly a testament to the many students and staff of Waterville Senior High School that have worked long and hard to expand and improve their craft,” Principal Brian Laramee said Thursday.

Laramee was standing before a crowd of about 700 students, staff members, city and state officials and others who had gathered at the WSHS auditorium, where the award was presented by James Weaver, the director of performing arts and sports for the Indianapolis-based NFHS.

Weaver said the award celebrates the talent, dedication and passion displayed by the WSHS students, staff members and administrators.

“It is a testament to their unwavering commitment to nurturing the arts and providing a platform for young performers to shine,” Weaver said. “This recognition underscores the vital role that the performing arts play in shaping well-rounded individuals and fostering creativity within our educational communities.”


The school has several performing arts programs, including drama, orchestra, strings, band, jazz band, chorus, speech debate, one-act plays and drama tech.

The bands, chorus and orchestra performed for the crowd Thursday.

Sue Barre, chairwoman of the visual and performing arts department at Waterville Senior High School, accepted the award, saying it was not just representative of the hard work and dedication of current and past department members, but also a celebration of the transformative power of the arts in society.

Barre in 2021 was awarded a National Federation outstanding music educator award and has led the school’s bands to receive honors at WorldStrides Heritage Music festivals in Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C. Chorus director Ciara Hargrove and orchestra director Colin Wheatley and their students also have garnered several awards.

“The performing arts have the unique ability to transcend boundaries, break down barriers and inspire change,” Barre said. “In a world often filled with division and discord, the arts provide a common language that brings us together. They challenge us to think differently, to feel deeply and to empathize with others’ experiences. They remind us of our shared humanity.”

Pamela Trinward, chairwoman of the Waterville Board of Education, said the award is a point of pride for the city and school. In Trinward’s 20 years on the board, dealing with the challenges that come with budgeting, the school administration has never suggested the board cut performing arts budgets, she said. The residents, City Council, school board and others have always supported the performing arts, according to Trinward.


Performing as first violinist in the orchestra Thursday, senior Sophie Scheck, 17, said she was surprised and happy about the award, but was not sure everyone realized its magnitude.

“This is really big,” Scheck said. “I think we definitely deserve it. The teachers are amazing, and I don’t think we would have gotten it without them.”

City Council Chairwoman Rebecca Greene sat in the front row with City Manager Bryan Kaenrath. When the event ended, Greene, who holds a doctorate in musicology, said her own children benefitted from the high school performing arts programs, which have “crackerjack” teachers. The program, she said, deserves to be celebrated.

“We’re just really lucky here in Waterville,” Greene said.

Thursday’s event drew local, state and federal leaders, including state Education Commissioner Pender Makin, state Rep. Bruce White, state Sen. David LaFountain and Holly Blair and Michael Burnham, the executive directors of the Maine Principals’ Association.

“To me, our performing arts program is an example to all of us in education about how to engage and inspire students,” Superintendent Peter Hallen wrote later in an email. “It’s the unique place where students of all ages, interests, backgrounds and abilities come together and learn with, from and about each other. Lots of credit was thrown around today, but make no mistake, those teachers are what drive that program.”

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