ST. LOUIS — For a school that once served 5,000 students, you'd think every one of them was watching Stephon Riggins solo part of the Sumner High School Winter Showcase based on the applause.
"I play a character named Junior. Really Junior is who I am. He's an outgoing student that wants to see Sumner thrive," Riggins stated.
The school only has 200 students. A problem that inspired the plot of their musical.
"The students see that the doors are closing at Sumner and that Sumner's about to shut down, so they try to raise awareness by putting on a concert.
For these students, this performance is a reflection of their reality. Sumner has three years to increase enrollment by 30% to avoid shutting down.
"I believe that the arts are going to inspire students to be more involved with their school and if they're involved with their school of course they're going to be involved with their academics," Director of Special Programs Jermaine Smith said.
It's Smith's first semester in the role. He brought in local partners to offer dance, visual arts, music, and drama classes, which were all incorporated into the showcase.
"Let us do a concert to show the community the talent and what we have in the school to show that we are worth fighting for," Smith said.
The students came up with the idea for the musical and Smith's brother Angelo Shaw wrote the production.
Riggins and Daatha Love believe it's making a difference, and hope others will see it that way too.
"I get to come to school every day excited about the end of the day because music is my last class, so I'm not dreading it anymore," Love said.
"This is not just a script or any of that. This is a real-life thing that is going on in our school that we trying to bring awareness to for real," Riggins said.
The students will be back to work in the new year, preparing for their next performances.
Smith is planning a Black History-inspired program at the end of February and the full production of their 'Worth Fighting For' production in the Spring.