Charter Tech High School for the Performing Arts special education teacher Kristen Troilo has for years asked senior Eric Phillips to accept a nomination for an Arts Achievement Award through VSA New Jersey, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to promoting the creative power of people with disabilities.

This year, the actor finally took his teacher up on her request - and he was glad he did, as he was named a 2013 award recipient for the theatre category.

"Every year, it was an excuse," the Atlantic City resident said. "I'm glad that I actually had a chance to do it, and I'm glad she nominated me, thought that much of me to nominate me for that."

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Eric was one of three Charter Tech students to win a VSA award.

The others were dancer Olympia Shepherd, of Atlantic City, and filmmaker Steven Kucharski, of Absecon. Dancer Dejenis Mendez, of Pleasantville, was a nominee. Steven, Olympia and Eric also attended the New Jersey State Governor's Awards in Arts Education ceremony May 2.

Eric, who won his award for his performance of Jack Nicholson's climactic monologue from the film "A Few Good Men," said winning the award has validated him as a performer.

"It means a lot. It means that people actually appreciate me for my acting, and they see that all the practice I did is actually paying off," he said. "It's a blessing."

Olympia earned her award through a performance that incorporated several styles of dance, such as jazz, contemporary and hip-hop.

The 17-year-old was at a loss for words in describing how she felt to receive her award.

"You feel blessed," Olympia said. "I was just excited. I was thankful."

All four students were nominated for the honor by Troilo, who said she believes the arts give special education students who might struggle with traditional academic an alternate avenue for success.

"They achieve other things through their art," Troilo said. "Sometimes, they're slower at learning with reading and writing, but they achieve it a different way through their art."

When the award recipients were announced by VSA New Jersey in mid-April, Charter Tech principal and dean of curriculum Brian McGuire convened a student meeting at which he read aloud the names of this year's winners from the school.

Giving the students the opportunity to be recognized for their successes before their peers, McGuire said, was a pleasure.

"Seeing the looks on their faces, and just being so proud of their accomplishment, it's a great moment," McGuire said.

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