Watauga Education Foundation hosts talent show fundraiser


Lynette Files

The entire cast of the Shooting Stars 2019 talent show take a final bow on stage. Over 70 acts tried out for the talent competition which took place on Friday April 12th at The Schaefer Center.

Daisy Tucker

Audiences were treated at the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts with a wide variety of acts including a jump rope routine, a magic act, choir ensembles and a rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” The occasion was Shooting Stars on April 12, the Watauga Education Foundation’s main annual fundraising event.

The event showcased Watauga County students’ talents from all grade levels, and all proceeds went to the Watauga County School System, Watauga Education Foundation president Don Presnell said.

“We’re a local nonprofit devoted to helping the teachers and students of Watauga County Schools,” Presnell said.

The Watauga Education Foundation also raises money for grants made specifically for teachers. Grants can fund workshops, graduate classes, or conferences.

In 2019, the Watauga Education Foundation increased its allocations for teacher grants from $20,000 to $30,000.

“We took a big leap of faithif you willbecause we just wanted to do that for teachers and the students,” Presnell said. “And we did it, and it worked out really well.”

Cassandra Steffen and Erika Hudspeth were the performing and visual arts producers for the 2019 event, which meant it was their responsibility to organize and conduct the visual and performing portions of the show. This was Steffen’s first year as performing arts producer.

Teachers and principals recommended talented students to the Shooting Stars producers, Steffen said. Initially, producers reviewed 81 acts, and through a four-day audition process, a panel of anonymous judges chose 28 acts for the show. They made special considerations and included a variety of acts and ages from every school.

“Our youngest contestant is in kindergarten and our oldest is a high school senior,” Steffen said. “I like to make the comment that someone’s talent can be in a different spot than someone else’s, but that everyone is at a talented level and not a professional level. Talent is courage and it’s bravery and it’s persistence.”

All contestants go through the process on their own, without parents or mentors.

“Even the youngest kindergartners are walking in by themselves with this courage to come out and perform,” Steffen said. “And their parents are trusting us that we’re going to take care of them, and then they’re going to be able to get on stage by themselves with a bunch of people they don’t know, which is a huge step in their performing arts journey.”

Thirty-two visual artists were also a part of the show.

“The selected visual artists for Shooting Stars are chosen by a panel of judges made up of local artists and/or those with strong ties to the art community,” Hudspeth said. “Videotaped interviews will show at the event, and selected artists are recognized on stage at Shooting Stars.”

For the producers, the main focus is on the students and their creative ventures.

“These children don’t all have to be professionals. They’re still working in their process of being a performer, and for them to feel heard and feel powerful and seen, I think, is the biggest goal of ours,” Steffen said. “Of course, there is the aspect that we want to bring in money so that we can give back to the community, but also, you know, take and encourage our community to be creative and to be performers.”

The Watauga Education Foundation believes that creative learning is essential to a full learning experience, Presnell said.

“It gives you means to extend the classroom,” Presnell said. “You know, you’re not confined by walls and the arts is just an extension of it.”