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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 26, 2006

Castle Performing Arts Center wins big

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

Castle Performing Arts Center's Karen Meyer and Andrew Johnson, center, were presented the national award by choreographer Debbie Allen, left, and first lady Laura Bush at the White House yesterday.

Stephen E. Purcell

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Before even accepting their award in a White House ceremony yesterday, students at the Castle Performing Arts Center already decided what to buy with the $10,000 prize two new spotlights for the Castle High School theater.

Karen Meyer, director of the Castle Performing Arts Center, along with one of her students, accepted the President's Committee on Arts and Humanities' Coming Up Taller Award from first lady Laura Bush.

This year, the award honored 17 arts-and-humanities afterschool programs that promote community involvement and academic achievement, said Meyer. The Castle High School program is the first from Hawai'i to win the prestigious national award, she said by phone from Washington.

Andrew Johnson, a 14-year-old freshman at Castle High School who accompanied Meyer on the trip, said the award means a lot to the program he has participated in since he was in fifth grade.

"It shows all of our hard work that we've done," said Johnson, an actor, singer and dancer. "It also shows how much we can still achieve."

The award recognizes the outstanding training that the program has provided in singing, dancing, acting and producing for more than 20 years, said Meyer. But it also recognizes the program for producing outstanding students theater students have better-grade point averages and test scores than the average Castle student, according to Meyer.

The Castle program, which operates on a $28,000 annual budget from the state Department of Education, has one of the smallest budgets of any of the other national programs that received the same award this year, said Meyer.

But it doesn't matter how much money the program has, she said, because "hopefully this award lets people know that there are things we do right."

The Castle Performing Arts Center was officially established in 1984 by Ron Bright, but there has been a theater program at the school since the 1950s, he said. Bright, 72, said the award recognizes the program he built "as something very special."

Meyer, who took charge of the center from Bright five years ago, said that while the award is a recognition of the countless students who have gone on to become performance artists, it's more about producing "caring members of the community."

Bright agreed. "I just want them to learn how to be a good person," he said. "When I see what happens to kids (in the program), I just get such joy."

Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.