For 17 years, I have loved the home and the family I have built at South Plantation High School. I have the best students in the world, a parent group who has my back and is always selflessly here to help with whatever is needed, some of whom have become close personal friends, a principal and administration who has trusted me and supported me without ever wavering, and a community that has embraced me and values the work that we do here.
My heart will forever be in the theater at South Plantation high school. But life is a lot different today then what it was like when I came to South.
I have an amazing husband of 28 years, who has supported me unconditionally and without complaint my entire career. And he now has a career in which he is impacting the lives of others in amazing ways. So much so that he was recently promoted as a supervisor to the very on-site foster care program that we help start with Kids in Distress some 10 years ago.
And I have an incredibly smart, strong, kind, funny, and resilient daughter whose very existence has made me want to be a better person. And whose entire life I am missing. As any parent will tell you…the time that we have with our kids is precious, but it is also fleeting. In the blink of an eye, it is gone.
As Piper is getting ready to make the move into middle school next year, she will soon be in high school. It is such an exciting time for her, but it is also so very formidable. And I have to be there for her. I need that, but more importantly, she needs that.
A few months ago, we discovered that there is a brand new high school that is in the final stages of construction literally 5 minutes away from our home in Lake Worth. It is the high school that Piper will be going to. And next door to that high school is the middle school that she will be attending next year. I have been asked to be the founding director of the theater program at this new school. At the high school that Piper will be attending. How could I not accept?
So it breaks my heart to say this but…. This will be my last year at South Plantation, the school that I so love. I struggle to put into words how this makes me feel. But the only thing that can come close is to compare it to the loss of a loved one. Sometimes…. The pain of that loss seems as if it is going to be unbearable, but you know when it is time.
As I sat and told my students and parents the news this evening, Mrs. Henschel, our principal, joined me. I know how important this program is to our school, our community, and to all of my students. It is as equally important to her. She is as committed to the continued success of this program as anyone, including me.
If there is one aspect of this program that I am the most proud of… it is that it is student directed. THEY are the ones that do this. THEY memorize the lines, gloss the text and make our shows accessible for our deaf audiences. THEY build the sets. THEY design and layout the playbills. THEY design and build the costumes and the props and create amazing hair and makeup effects for the actors.
And I am going to do everything that I can to make sure that they are able to continue to do all of that. While I may not be in this space, I will still be here for the students I will be leaving behind. As they prepare for productions, college interviews, and auditions, I will continue to guide them every step of the way. It is important for them to know that they only need to call on me.
And to my Friends of The Theatre… Know that as the dust begins to settle and things begin to unfold, I will be working side by side with you to make sure that all of the work that we have done together and all that we have built together remains strong through the coming transition. As always, your input and your guidance will be needed and more than welcomed.
So while I can’t tell you exactly how this will play out, here’s what I am committed to:
First…. My leaving South will not impact the rest of this school year. We are going to have fabulous time at the Florida State Thespian Competition next week, Matilda is going to be amazing, we are going to have the best end-of-year banquet ever, and our summer camp will be even better than it was than last year.
I refuse to be the person that has one foot in and one foot out.
I debated on when to share this news. However, I want to immediately start looking for who will come in to take the reins and continue to grow this program next year and my kids needed to hear it from me rather than one of their peers at another school.
So… if you know anyone that might be up to the challenge, please put them in contact with me. This can be a current teacher at another school, a recent graduate, or someone in industry that is wanting to move into the field of education.
The program they would be joining is a fully functional program with principal that promotes arts in education, a flourishing parent booster organization that is unconditionally supportive and raises A TON OF MONEY for scholarships and in support of the functions of the theatre program, and a summer theatre camp that has been running strong for the last 15 years!
As I transition from South Plantation to my new school, I am committed to making sure that whoever it is that replaces me will be set up for success and will want to work with them over the summer so that they are oriented to the space, the people, and the program is it now stands.
As a final note to this posting…. To say the words “Thank You” don’t even come close. But for now… thank you to those of you who have blessed me with allowing me to be your teacher, your mentor, your friend. Thank you to those who have trusted me with your children. Thank you for those who have allowed me to push you and have graciously pushed me in return… to do more… to be more… to be better.
I have been honored to get an intimate peek into the lives of so many families who have “gotten it right” over the years. I’ve been inspired by parents who have shown me what unconditionally supporting their children and what truly investing in their lives looks like.
And to that end… while professionally there isn’t a reason in the world why this “makes sense,” for the most important reason… it is time.
The South Plantation High School theater program dedicated its stage to Jason Zembuch-Young in 2023 as a profound tribute to his extraordinary passion for education, the performing arts and his invaluable contributions to the Plantation community.
Throughout his time at South Plantation, Jason's unwavering dedication to education and creativity left an indelible mark on the hearts of students and staff alike. But it was his deep desire to foster inclusivity...to reach out to the deaf and hard of hearing community by incorporating American Sign Language into all mainstage productions that he will forever be remembered for.
Jason has inspired our Paladins to pursue not just their artistic dreams but to be the best version of themselves that they can be all while pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible in high school theater.
By dedicating the stage to Jason, the theater program ensures that his legacy of artistry, kindness, and encouragement will continue to resonate with future generations of Paladins, forever illuminating the path to artistic excellence.
June 11, 2023- Our own theater director, Jason Zembuch-Young, stepped on to the United Palace stage in New York and accepted the Tony Award for Excellence in Education.
Congratulations Jason! We are so proud of you. And all that worry about your acceptance speech was for naught. It was both eloquent and full of grace. You did yourself, your family and South proud.
Excellence in Theatre Education Award recipient Jason Zembuch-Young is congratulated by Erich Bergen at the Tony Awards First Impressions Cam presented by City National Bank, backstage at the 76th Annual Tony Awards on Sunday, June 11, 2023.
May 31, 2023- The Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) announced today that theatre director/teacher Jason Zembuch Young of South Plantation High School in Plantation, Florida, will receive the 2023 Excellence in Theatre Education Award.
The Excellence in Theatre Education Award was co-founded in 2014 by the Tony Awards and CMU to recognize top K-12 drama teachers and to celebrate arts education. Zembuch Young will receive his award at The 76th Annual Tony Awards on Sunday, June 11, at the historic United Palace in New York City’s Washington Heights.
Making theatre accessible for all audiences has been the hallmark of Zembuch Young’s 20 years as a drama teacher. Each year, he produces two full-length mainstage productions, a play and a musical, in both voice and American Sign Language (ASL). As an advocate for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) population, Zembuch Young has reshaped policies to provide interpreters during and after school to teach his hearing and DHH actors and crew how to communicate and perform.
“As a high school theatre teacher, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many students from different backgrounds with varying exceptionalities. When we are inclusive in the theatre, everyone is better for it. Everyone deserves to have a voice,” said Zembuch Young. “It is in the theatre that we have an opportunity to give our students a platform to use that voice, regardless of who they are, where they come from, or what language they use to communicate.”
Zembuch Young runs a one-person, zero-budget public school theatre department with upwards of 150 students participating in performances. He also operates a six-week summer-stock theatre camp for elementary and middle school students, using high school drama students as counselors and mentors. With his South Plantation School students, he participates in International Thespian district and state competitions and is an eight-time South Florida CAPPIE winner for Best Play or Musical. Zembuch Young fundraises annually to provide four $1,000 scholarships to help graduating seniors.
Helping others overcome disability or life circumstances doesn’t stop when the school bell rings for Zembuch Young. He and his husband Michael have fostered more than 35 abused and underprivileged children. He’s facilitated the adoption of foster kids in his care and became an adoptive parent himself. He offers free admission to all performances for foster families so that they can experience live theatre.
A panel of theatre experts from the American Theatre Wing, The Broadway League and Carnegie Mellon University selected Zembuch Young from a nationwide call for entries.
“We are thrilled to present the 2023 Excellence in Theatre Education Award to Jason Zembuch Young,” said Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League, and Heather Hitchens, President and CEO of the American Theatre Wing. “Jason’s exceptional commitment to empowering every student to make and be part of theatre has won the hearts and appreciation of his local community and now the Broadway community, as well.”
The Excellence in Theatre Education Award recognizes a K-12 theatre educator in the U.S. who has demonstrated exemplary impact on the lives of students and who embodies the highest standards of the profession. Zembuch Young will receive $10,000 for South Plantation High School’s theatre program and tickets to The Tony Awards and Gala. Zembuch Young’s students will also receive a visiting Master Class taught by CMU Drama professors.
“New trails are blazed when teachers challenge paradigms in the name of art, expression and accessibility,” said Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian. “Jason Zembuch Young is an extraordinary educator who has used the power of theatre to profoundly impact the lives of his students. CMU is proud to present this award to Jason in recognition of his positive influence and remarkable achievements.”
Tune in to The 76th Annual Tony Awards
The American Theatre Wing’s 76th Annual Tony Awards, presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing, will air LIVE on Sunday, June 11, 2023 from the historic United Palace in Washington Heights in New York City from 8:00-11:00 PM, ET/5:00-8:00 PM, PT on the CBS Television Network, and streaming live and on demand on Paramount+.
CBS and Pluto TV will present The Tony Awards: Act One, a pre-show of live, exclusive content leading into The 76th Annual Tony Awards. The celebration commences at 6:30-8:00 PM, ET/3:30-5:00 PM PT, on Pluto TV, the leading free streaming television service (FAST). Viewers can access the show on their smart TV, streaming device, mobile app or online by going to Pluto TV and clicking on the “Pluto TV Celebrity” channel (no payment, registration or sign-in required).
In case you missed it, here is a video of the Plantation City Counsel declaring April 26 as Jason Zembuch-Young Day
In 2022, Friend of the Theatre Colleen Ramer, longtime costume mistress Robin Cuthrell Case worked with FOTT communications director Dean Kautzmann to create this submission video for Carnagie Mellon's "Applaud My Teacher" Excellence in Education competition. This was the video that opened the door to Jason's Tony Award.
In September of 2019 Theater Director Jason Zembuch-Young was featured on NBC6 News "Making A Difference" segment.
Theater Director Jason Zembuch-Young joins the the Spotlight On The Arts theater professionals to talk about the Drama Department at South Plantation High and how they use sign language in their productions. Video Courtesy of BECON-TV.
This video is an interview with directors Jason Zembuch-Young and Michelle Terl (now the Artisitic Director at Parkway Middle School of the Arts) by local theater icon Iris Acker. The show was called "On Stage" at the time but since Iris's passing in 2018, the show has been renamed Spotlight On The Arts, which airs on BECON-TV (channel 19 on Comcast & UHF channel 63). This interview provides a great introduction to South's theater program.
This next video is also provided courtesy of BECON-TV. "Teen Talk" was a one-hour program of unscripted, real talk addressing sensitive issues impacting today's youth. The subject matter of this particular program is "Theater for the Deaf" and features a discussion with Directors Zembuch-Young and Terl along with several cast members, both hearing and deaf. The topic is November 2009's critically acclaimed and Cappie Award winning production of "West Side Story".
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All theater production photos by Ms. Tina Oda
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