Oregon teacher to receive Tony award for excellence in theater education

Teacher honored by Tony Awards

It's campus pride day at Oregon's Hood River Valley High School. There's music, ice cream and an assembly to recognize a favorite teacher: Rachel Harry.

But before we go on with the celebration, see what led Harry to this moment. 

Affectionately known as "Krum," she's been showing theater students how find their mark and light a stage for 31 years, reports CBS News' Jamie Wax. 

"I love teenagers. I love everything they're going through. The drama that they experience. The roller coaster ride," Harry said. "They come in as basically kids, and they leave as adults."

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Rachel Harry with her students    CBS News

"She really changes people's lives. And that's incredible," senior Jason Krehbiel said.

Students agree she's much more than a teacher.

"She's definitely a mother figure," sophomore Atari Gauthier said, adding, "She's created a second home and she's made me more comfortable in my own skin, I think." 

Tay Lynne is a former student and one of Krum's two children. 

"She never wanted us far from her. So… we were never far from the theater," Lynne said.  

"Of all the things she's given you as a mother, and as a teacher, what's the most important thing you take away from your mother?" Wax asked.

"Oh my gosh, there are so many. You are the most important person. Everyone is the most important person to themselves," Lynne said.

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Rachel Harry   CBS News

Before Krum took to the stage as a teacher, she had other plans.

 "I wanted to be a dancer. And I went to the University of Utah as a ballet major, and I loved dancing all day. But I didn't really fit," Harry said. But she fit in with the theater kids, she said.

She's an artist asking her students to collaborate with her vision.

"They're hands on. They want to get up and move. I'm the same way," Harry said.

"She teaches us in a way that we don't feel like we're being patronized, or, you know, talked down to," senior Emily Spezia-Shwiff said.

Strong teachers are often a beacon in and out of the classroom, and sometimes they need to rely on that strength themselves. In 2006, Harry faced a divorced and a cancer diagnosis at the same time.

"I said 'You know, I'm looking at this giant, huge, teachable moment. How does someone cope with cancer?' And, the kids, I'm sorry, the kids were awesome," Harry said, getting emotional.

Lynne remembers her mom going through the tough period.

"I was a freshman in high school, so I was here for a lot of it," she said. "My brother and I shaved all our hair off. … She just kept going. And she showed up every day."

"My teaching is my art, it's who I am. So you take that element away … I guess … there were people saying, 'Well, you're going to have to take some time off from work.' And I was going, 'I can't. Don't ask me to do that please because this is my life, this is my world,"' Harry said.

More than 10 years later – and Krum is still feeling her community's love and support. Now she's receiving recognition from the Tony Awards for excellence in theater education.

We surprised her with the news in front of her students – and she couldn't leave the stage without offering them another lesson. 

"I had to work really hard and lots of times I felt like giving up, but I didn't. So you guys, keep at it. Follow your dreams, OK? Will you do that for me? I love all of you," she said.

Harry will receive her award during the Tony's broadcast, and her school's theater department gets $10,000.

Watch the 71st annual Tony Awards this Sunday night at 8 p.m. EDT/7 Central on CBS.