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Pinellas County scholarship program helps performing arts students hone skills

Pinellas County scholarship program helps performing arts students hone skills

Fox 13 Tampa Bay (May 14, 2024)

LARGO, Fla. – For two decades, the Walker’s Rising Stars Scholarship Program has been transforming the lives of performing arts students in Pinellas County. It’s been a vital gateway for aspiring actors, dancers, musicians and artists, offering them a chance to compete for college scholarships.

“Walker’s Rising Stars is our annual event that showcases the arts, the performing arts and other arts of our students here in Pinellas County schools,” Kim Jowell, CEO for Pinellas Education Foundation said.

The program highlights students like Za’naisha Mcguire, who knows her way around a stage or two.

“I started acting when I was in sixth grade at my middle school, and previously I have done chorus, so theater was very new to me,” said Mcguire. “It was something new that I was trying, but I got into theater and I really enjoyed it.”

Which explains why she’s gotten pretty good. Mcguire is taking part in the Walker’s Rising Stars Scholarship Program at The Mahaffey Theater.

“It feels unreal, like to perform on this amazing stage in front of so many people. Like, it’s very nerve wracking, but it’s very exciting and exhilarating to be able to do what I love in front of all these people,” Mcguire explained.

Mcguire and 28 of her peers were picked as finalists to perform at the event.

“159 students started this process and have been going through, throughout the year, being judged and moving on throughout the process down to these final four in each of the categories tonight,” Jowell said.

They’re competing for college scholarships.

“All of the participants tonight will be awarded a scholarship of some value, anywhere from $500 to $5000,” said Jowell. “But tonight, in total, we give out $48,000 worth of scholarships.”

Mason Derks has been blowing his horn for seven years. He started in a middle school band.

“I love my instrument and that not even that I put so much work into this, but that there’s so much love and, passion in what I’m playing,” Derks said.

For Mcguire, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I think the fact that it can be anything you want it to be, like the fact that, like, you can bring so many of your own personal experiences into the art and share that with people that you don’t even know,” Mcguire shared.

Students are stepping into the spotlight of their futures, ready to shine brighter than ever before.

Mcguire finished in first place in the scholarship competition.

Watch the news clip and read more on Fox 13 Tampa Bay’s website here.