Desiree Stant spent her formative years as a classical pianist, and joined the ranks of a marching band as a clarinet player. When she was a freshman in college, she auditioned for the theatrical production of The Robber Bridegroom and fell in love with the community she found. After watching other students in the School of Theatre at Florida State University study playwriting, costume design, and theatre history, she knew that she had found her passion. She then set her sights on a future as a high school theatre teacher.
Stant felt driven to serve the students who needed her most, and joined the ranks of Teach for America three years ago as an English teacher at First Coast High School (FCHS) in the Duval County Public School system. She brought her love of theatre to the school, starting a small program in earnest with a group of twenty-five students during that first year of teaching. The administration at the school saw the value in the program and asked her if she would be willing to build a quality theatre program.
Dr. Alvin Brennan, who serves as principal of FCHS, remembers how the program started. “My decision to start the program and build it was simple: give the kids what they like and allow them to get connected to their school. When you looked at the community that serves First Coast there was no theater or performing arts program at any of the high schools other than Douglas Anderson. Looking at that, and the talent requirements to get into Douglas Anderson, I said we can do something on the same scale here with the exceptional student talent pool at First Coast.”
Stant saw that need as well, and felt that the students she worked with deserved a quality theatre program and an opportunity to be immersed in the arts. That is what drives her, motivates her to provide the best program possible for her students, and hone her skills as a teacher.
“When they asked me to start a brand new theatre program at the end of my first year at First Coast, I was very excited, but my students were even more excited,” says Stant.
FCHS student Antonio Davis speaks about the challenges of the first few years, explaining that some students didn’t have the dedication to attend rehearsals regularly and stick with the program. Antonio is a well-spoken young man who shares his praise for the school and the importance of getting involved. He also plays in the band and led parents and community members on a tour for the Discover Duval Schools program recently.
“Ms. Stant was worried about whether the drama program would continue [in the beginning],” says Antonio. “Those who were dedicated came back. Seussical [Seussical the Musical] was an eye opener, not only for students, but for the administration to see that a club with students staying after school each day could do something so great.”
By Director of Arts Jeff Smith, featuring the voices of the students, faculty, and administrators at First Coast High School