Two Kansans Honored by NFHS for Excellence in Performing Arts

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TOPEKA, Kan – The Kansas State High School Activities Association is pleased to announce that Gary Harmon, longtime debate and speech coach has been selected for the 2020-21 NFHS “Outstanding Speech/Debate/Theatre Educator Award” and Susan Laushman, Pittsburg High School Choir Director for the past 16 years, has been selected as the 2020-21 NFHS “Outstanding Music Educator Award” recipient.

NFHS Outstanding Speech/Debate/Theatre Educator Award – Gary Harmon

Nominations for the NFHS Outstanding Speech/Debate/Theatre Educator Award are solicited from the NFHS’s state contacts. All new nominations, plus selected past recipients, are considered for State, Sectional or Citation awards.  When reviewing the nominations, the NFHS Speech Committee looks at a number of criteria: 1) overall contributions, 2) years of service both curricular and co-curricular, 3) organization and continuance of an activity program, 4) significant and on-going contribution to the field, and 5) contributions to the profession both in and out of the state.

The award represents NFHS Section 5 (Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.) Section winners are eligible for the National Citation award, which is the highest award given by the NFHS.

Mr. Harmon has been teaching and coaching since 1965 and will be retiring from Kansas Wesleyan University at the conclusion of this school year. His career in education has exceeded five decades beginning in the Spring of 1965 at Hutchinson Central Junior High School where he taught English, was the pep club sponsor and directed the all school play. His profession led him to several schools teaching, coaching and mentoring thousands of students along his educational path. He had a major impact at Wellington High School, Manhattan High School, Chaparral High School, Salina Central High School, Kansas State University and has spent the past 16 years at Kansas Wesleyan University.

Gary has received numerous awards and honors. From 1982 to 1993, he coached five State Champions in 4-Speaker, 2-Speaker and Lincoln-Douglas Debate. In 1988, he coached the NFL Student Congress Senator National Champion. He is a Salina Teacher of the Year, two time Kansas Speech Communications Teacher of the Year, and is a member of the National NFL Coaches Hall of Fame (National Speech and Debate Association) and the Kansas Speech Hall of Fame (Kansas Speech Communications Association).

Mr. Harmon started a high school Debate camp in 1986 that still operates today. He created the Kansas State Fair Debates in 1992, which has grown immensely over the years. Gary has also hosted numerous speech, debate, basketball, and volleyball clinics as well as numerous KSHSAA rules meetings from the late 1960’s to the present year. Gary Harmon co-authored a high school Debate textbook entitled, “Argumentation & Debate: A Strategic Perspective,” published through Linus Publications.

Gary recently wrote the following essay, “I have found that every student whom I have come in contact during my teaching career could learn, although sometimes it did not seem like what they could learn was what I was teaching them. I finally figured out that the learning belonged to them and not me. My job was to figure out how they learned. A counselor told me once while we were discussing a student with whom I was having difficulties, that he had more hell given to him before breakfast than I could deal out to him all day. That was in my first semester of teaching. I asked for details and was told to listen; he would tell me. I did and in a couple of months he began to show me what he needed to learn. I discovered a unique and fine young man instead of a frustrated angry teen that the world was failing. The first tenant of my educational philosophy is to listen, not necessarily to the words, but listen.

My second tenant is to care.  I had a professor that told us a good teacher physically touched each student every day. I know that in today’s environment that sounds dangerous, but if you take the physical part out and replace it with the act of showing you really care; it makes perfect sense. I will bet that everyone had a favorite teacher in elementary school. One that made a difference, one that really cared. I do not mean the one that over did it and called you sweetheart. The one I remember hit my leg with a ruler when I stuck my foot in the aisle to trip Roseann Clutter. She would also stay after school until you understood those fractions. You knew she cared. School was not about her; it was about me.

Finally, I have always called teaching a profession. I figured this out by the time my first freshmen class became seniors. I had taught them most everything I learned in college about the subject being taught. I needed to know more “stuff.”  Our world is forever revolving so fast that when it comes to knowledge, it is very difficult to keep pace. I went back to school in the summer and sometimes in the winter for night classes.  I was not very smart. I did not go after degrees. I sought out classes that advanced my knowledge of the subject matter I was paid to teach. I have lots of hours, but not a lot of diplomas. I did; however, learn and as I discovered knowledge, I became excited to pass it on to my students. The courses I teach continually change in substance and still do today.

Another factor towards being a qualified teacher is that you need to know other colleagues in your area. Join your professional organization and attend their conferences. My personal educational philosophy is to listen, care, and be an ultimate professional.”

The NFHS Speech, Debate and Theatre Association (NFHS SDTA) Outstanding Speech/Theatre/Debate Educator Award was first given in 1988 when seven individuals received sectional awards. Since that time, 230 sectional and 372 state awards have been presented. Added to those totals for 2020-2021 are seven sectional awards and thirteen state awards. An annual selection of a NFHS National Citation recipient began in 1989. Nominations for the NFHS SDTA Outstanding Speech/ Theatre/Debate Educator Award are solicited from the NFHS’s state contacts. All new nominations, plus selected past recipients, are considered for state, sectional or Citation awards.

NFHS Outstanding Music Educator Award Recipient – Susan Laushman

The National Federation of State High School Association’s (NFHS) Outstanding Music Educator Award recognizes high school or college band, choral or orchestral directors, supervisors, and adjudicators.  It is awarded to individuals whose contributions have impacted high school activities programs.  Nominees must exemplify the highest standards of ethical conduct and carry the endorsement of their respective state high school association. Significant and/or long-term contributions to interscholastic high school music activities are important criterion in evaluating candidates.

The award represents NFHS Section 5 (Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.)

In the fall of 1985, she began her teaching career in Pittsburg High School as the vocal music teacher. From 1997-2004, Susan taught vocal music at Carl Junction, MO Junior/Senior High School. She then moved her career back to Pittsburg High School where she currently teaches Vocal Music, Piano Lab and Music Theatre.

In the May 2003, Ms. Laushman prepared an ensemble of 40 Carl Junction High School vocal music students and traveled to New York City to perform with Dr. John Leavitt at Carnegie Hall through Mid-America Productions. The choir was comprised of 250 high school students from across the country. Dr. Leavitt made special arrangements for her to serve as rehearsal accompanist, assist throughout the process, sing with the mass choir for the performance, and was featured pianist with the orchestra during the finale. Once again in Nov 2005 and May 2008, she rehearsed and prepared ensembles of Pittsburg High School vocal music students who traveled to New York City to perform with Dr. John Leavitt at Carnegie Hall.

Susan’s choral ensembles consistently receive 1 ratings at KSHSAA State Music Festivals. These groups include: Encore (Mixed); Pittsburg Women’s Chorus and the Pittsburg Men’s Chorus. Pittsburg High School annually has 35-40 choir students selected to the KMEA District Honor Choir and 8-14 vocal students selected each year to the KMEA All-State Honor Choir.

In 2009, Ms. Laushman created and developed the Pittsburg Multigenerational Choir program to represent the District’s Mission Statement of partnership with home, school and community that work collaboratively to empower all students to learn while promoting respect for self and others. She also designed the fall curriculum to invite community members into her vocal music classroom three times a week for nine weeks to sing along side her high school students in preparation for a public concert. Susan arranged all the choral music for the group over the summer and the season runs from the beginning of school through October. The choir has exceeded 175 members in recent years, incorporating over 75 high school faculty, parents and community members.

The NFHS Music Association Outstanding Music Educator Award was first given in 1989 when seven individuals received sectional awards. Since that time, 190 sectional and 349 state awards have been presented. Added to those totals for 2020-2021 are seven sectional awards and fifteen state awards. Also, 1989 marked the beginning of an annual selection of a NFHS Citation recipient. The Citation is one of the highest awards presented by the NFHS in the fine arts.

Nominations for the NFHS Music Association Outstanding Music Educator Award are solicited from the NFHS state contacts. All new nominations, plus selected past recipients, are considered for state, sectional or Citation awards. Once selected by the NFHS Music Committee, nominators are notified of the status of their nominee and are afforded the opportunity to make the award presentation at a suitable event.

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