The Transylvania Times -

Everyday Education: What Does It Mean To Be An A+ School? - Brevard, NC


October 2, 2017

An A+ School is the new designation for Brevard Elementary School. Does this mean it is the best? We might think so, and perhaps that could be true, but what does it really mean?

Recently every elementary school in Transylvania County has been asked to choose a focus area that the school will use to enhance the educational experience of its students. For instance, TC Henderson has been a STEM School (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) for over a year. This year Brevard Elementary School asked for and received a coveted grant from the North Carolina Arts Council to operate as an A+ School, which means that the “Arts” will be the focus area of the school.

Many large businesses have found that those trained in the arts are better able to deal with complex and ambiguous problems.

They also suggest that students need to learn different ways of communicating, to develop and trust their own perceptions, and to work toward goals which will give them a sense joy and accomplishment in life. The A+ School program embodies these ideas and transfers them by giving guidance and financial support to schools which are willing to incorporate an arts-based curriculum.

In the early l990s, the Keenan Foundation in Winston-Salem created the A+ School concept after learning that studies from arts-based schools reported significant improvement in student test scores, including math and science. The Ashley River School in Charleston, S.C., is a primary example. In a few short years of using an arts-based curriculum, the school reported the highest test scores in the region, an attendance rate of 99.2 percent and 1,200 students on a waiting list to get in. This arts magnet school taught the arts not only as subjects but also used them throughout the curriculum to make science, history and math come alive.

The aim of Brevard Elementary’s A+ program is to teach the student to love to learn, not just memorize facts, and to give back to the teachers their original love of teaching, not just testing. April Gaydosh, principal of Brevard Elementary, is very pleased with the new excitement she sees every day in both the faculty and the students because of the A+ designation.

In order to become an A+ School the faculty of Brevard Elementary was required to attend a week-long training session in Raleigh. Now they work together on lesson plans with curriculum maps that incorporate hands-on arts experiences in the teaching of every subject. One teacher is using stretch bands in various bright colors to teach different shapes. Another teaches word syllables with rhythm sticks. The walls in the halls of Brevard Elementary are covered with the prints of artwork by Rodin, Seurat, Andy Warhol, Van Gogh, Cassatt and Calder, among others. They are to be used in discussions and activities to develop skills in communication, observation, inquiry and critical thinking.

One Brevard Elem-entary mother has shared a special testimony of how the A+ experience has already affected her son: “My son is in fifth grade at BES and this year he has shared more about school than any previous year. There are several contributing factors as to why, but I do believe he is motivated by the energy and changes stemming from BES becoming an A+ school. Listening to him talk, the infusion of music and movement into each day is definitely enhancing his learning!

“Three examples: 1. The second or third day of school he came home and wanted to share the new school pledge with us. He moved to an open space in the kitchen and recited it to us with the corresponding movements. Then he said they got to do it big and with exaggerated movements! So, he recited it again with a stronger voice and bigger movements. 

“2. In math, the students were in groups of four and they had to create a song to demonstrate the principle they were working on. They were learning about decimals, specifically which direction to move the decimal when multiplying versus dividing. Using the tune of the popular song “To the Left” his group shuffled to the left and to the right as they sang the rules!

“3.In social studies they have been looking at the United States Constitution. Part of the requirement is to memorize the preamble. He had to recite it in class today. As he practiced on the way to school, he said it once, sang it once (schoolhouse rock version) and recited it once with a British accent.  The most fun part was when he first told me about this assignment a couple of weeks ago, I was trying to recall the words to the preamble. After “We the People,” I was kind of stumped. Then he showed me the Schoolhouse Rock version (Saturday mornings when I was a child). As soon as the music started I could sing it from memory! A real testament to the power of learning through the arts!

“Then, yesterday, Nancy Frady, BES art teacher, shared a cool story with me. She asked her students to get into groups and share through movement what they remembered from a previous lesson comparing and contrasting mosaics, collage and pointillism. One group stood next to one another, arms by their side, very still to represent mosaics. The next group had very fluid movements that overlapped one another to represent collage and the third group, pointillism, simply made arm motions like they were making dots. What a cool A+ way to assess their understanding...because understanding can be demonstrated in so many ways beside words!”

What makes these examples so powerful is that the students actually experience the concepts being taught. They are moving, acting out, singing and dancing what they are learning, and figuring out how to do this for themselves.

There is an old saying that experience is the best teacher. Because humans experience the world through sensory perception, which is heightened in the expression of all art forms, it makes perfect sense to use the arts to enrich the learning experience. This is the basic principle of the A+ School program. Brevard Elementary is fortunate to be an A+ School.


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