Carnegie Mellon University
June 08, 2022

Jones-Koumba Named 2022 Excellence in Theatre Education Award Winner

By Pam Wigley

Peter Kerwin
  • University Communications & Marketing
Pam Wigley
  • College of Fine Arts
  • 412-268-1047

Sensational. Nurturing. Inspirational. Admirable. Welcoming. Amazing. If there were more superlatives in existence, chances are they would be used to describe Roshunda Jones-Koumba, the Houston teacher who has been named the 2022 Excellence in Theatre Education Award winner. The award is presented annually by Carnegie Mellon University and its Tony Award partners at The Broadway League and American Theatre Wing.

An awardJones-Koumba, or "Miss Jones" to her students at G.W. Carver Magnet High School for Performing & Visual Arts in Houston, will accept her honor at the 75th Annual Tony Awards on June 12 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Although no stranger to recognition for her work as a theatre arts educator, Jones-Koumba is modest when it comes to accepting recognition. She chooses, instead, to focus on her students and gives them credit for the success they've had as an award-winning troupe of thespians for the past 17-plus years.

"My kids are hungry," she said. "I love their determination and their drive. They motivate me to do better."

It would be difficult to imagine that she could do any better. A self-described hard worker (a trait that comes from her parents), Jones-Koumba grew up as an only child in Wharton, Texas. Despite being a small town, Wharton offered a healthy theatre program. Oscar-winning screenwriter Horton Foote ("To Kill a Mockingbird") hailed from Wharton, and the town formed an adult theatre group called the Footlighters in his honor. Jones-Koumba became involved in the group and, ultimately, helped to create on offshoot of the group for students — the Litefooters.

It was in her nature — and her bloodline — to nurture the next generation of theatre enthusiasts. Hailing from a family of educators, she knew she wanted to be an educator since she was young. Her middle school and, later, high school teacher, Marjorie Tydlacka supported Jones-Koumba as a prose and poetry author.

"She believed in me," Jones-Koumba said. "She made me see that the sky was the limit, no matter what I wanted to do."

She enrolled at Prairie View A&M University, and majored in English with a minor in theatre arts. Her hope was to become a high school teacher and become involved in theatre programs at the high school level. Her major changed, however, when a professor named C. Lee Turner pulled her aside and told her to follow her real dream first.

"Miss Jones taught me that without hard work, I'm minimizing my talent. I would still be waiting for my future if I hadn't met Miss Jones." — Trysten Williams

"He encouraged me to major in theatre arts, with a minor in English, so that I could focus on what I truly loved," she recalled. "He connected me with a student teaching experience at Eisenhower High School in the Aldine Independent School District in Houston." There, she worked with mentor Freddie Buckner and completed her student teaching in 2004.

She went to work at Shotwell Middle School in Houston for a year before her mentor called. Buckner told her about a theatre arts teaching role at Carver High School, and she arrived in 2005 to be the new face of the theatre program. She has been inspiring young people ever since.

From the start, she looked at her students as more than children to be cared for in the classroom. Instead, she focused on their lives beyond school.

"My students face challenges — in their home lives, their finances, their overall stability," Jones-Koumba said. "I knew that I needed to create a safe space for them in order to help them grow and be successful in their lives."

That safe space is Carver's Black Box, a rehearsal classroom where students come together and pursue theatre education. Together with fellow PVAMU alumnus, teacher and technical director Jabari Collins, Jones-Koumba has worked to build a family there. Her nurturing spirit instills in her students the belief that they can accomplish whatever they want in their lives — whether they pursue theatre as a career or not.

A group photo
Jones-Koumba and her students and colleagues.

"Miss Jones taught me a lot about theatre, but she also taught me a lot about life and being secure in who I am," said Yasaar Ellis, a 2020 Carver graduate who is now a rising third-year student at the University of Virginia.

Trysten Williams, a 2021 alumnus of Carver, also was inspired by Jones-Koumba to reach beyond the sky to follow his dreams.

"Miss Jones taught me that without hard work, I'm minimizing my talent. I would still be waiting for my future if I hadn't met Miss Jones," he said. Williams is now in Atlanta at Morehouse College, studying business administration with an international studies minor.

Jones-Koumba also has been a role model for Kai Womack, a 2019 alumna of Carver, who is a senior theatre education major at the University of Houston. She wants to follow in Jones-Koumba's footsteps.

"I want to teach theatre education to the next generation. I want for them to be seen, the way I was seen here by Miss Jones," Womack said.

Seeing her students as their true selves and helping them to become award-winning performers is something that comes naturally to Jones-Koumba, said colleague Collins, who submitted her name for the Excellence in Theatre Education Award. He has been a close friend since their first day at Prairie View A&M and shares the students' glowing endorsement of his collaborator.

"Professor Turner always told us that theatre can change the world," Collins said. "Theatre can change people, and people change the world. Roshunda received the torch from C. Lee. She's changing the world, and everyone should know how much she makes a difference."

"I will always be an advocate for arts education," Jones-Koumba said. "Jabari and I are training the next generation of artist and leaders so they will serve as examples for others."

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