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Mount Holly elementary schools will see an infusion of the arts for 2020-2021 academic year

During the A+ School ceremony last August at W.A. Bess Elementary School, students gathered on the stage steps to unveil the North Carolina A+ School official banner.

Gaston County is getting two more A+ Schools, and they will be in Mount Holly.

Beginning next school year, it will be all about the arts at Pinewood Elementary and Ida Rankin Elementary.  Recently, the schools were chosen for the prestigious North Carolina A+ School distinction.

“Our school has always emphasized the importance of the arts so becoming an A+ School makes sense,” said Rankin principal Donna Kelly.  “For years, we’ve had an outstanding partnership with the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, and the arts are a big focus right now in the community of Mount Holly.  It is a natural fit for us.”

Being an A+ School will generate a lot of energy among students, teachers, parents, and the community, according to Pinewood principal Tyler West.  She said the school is looking forward to offering new and interesting approaches to teaching and learning.

“The A+ School designation provides a different way for us to engage students,” said West.  “It also gives our teachers an opportunity to ignite more excitement in their classrooms.”

To get a glimpse of what it means to be an A+ School, Kelly and West had to look no further than W.A. Bess Elementary in Gastonia.  W.A. Bess earned the North Carolina A+ School distinction about this time last year and began its arts-infused approach to school in August.  In a North Carolina A+ School, the “A+” represents the addition of the arts across the curriculum.  

  “In everything we do, the arts have a presence in our classrooms,” said W.A. Bess principal Laura Dixon.   

According to Dixon, research indicates that arts education is linked to positive academic and social outcomes, increased civic engagement, and higher academic achievement.  Further, students who are engaged in the arts have higher degrees of empathy and acceptance and demonstrate stronger critical thinking skills.

At an A+ School, arts education is approached in three ways: 

 Arts Integration gives equal value to arts standards and non-arts standards to create hands-on, practical, connected, and meaningful learning experiences for students.

 Arts Education involves the teaching of specific disciplines like music, dance, theater arts, and visual arts and promoting each one as a special art form.  Students gain knowledge of each form and have opportunities to experience all of them through their individual learning, group activities, and performances.

 Arts Exposure creates exciting opportunities for students to explore artistic works, performances, and careers in the arts both at school and in the community.

With her school’s A+ distinction, Dixon takes pride in seeing students and staff reach for an even higher level of achievement.

 “Students who are a part of an arts curriculum take what they learn with them – this benefits them later in school and beyond graduation,” said Dixon, who is the 2019-2020 Gaston County Principal of the Year.  “Once an understanding of and appreciation for the arts is in you, it remains and you benefit from it for the rest of your life.  This is what we hope happens for our students at W.A. Bess.”

Kelly and West believe that what is going on at W.A Bess will also take place at their school.

“We already have an arts mindset at Rankin so the A+ School aspect will greatly enhance what we are doing, and we will be able to do much more,” said Kelly.  “What I loved most about visiting other A+ Schools was seeing students who are happy and excited about learning.  Being an A+ School is going to bring new energy to our school.”

One idea that West says she will implement at Pinewood is a series of “Family Art Night” programs that will involve teachers, students, and even parents in the arts.

Kelly and West believe the A+ School designation will have a positive effect on their school.  In a time of school choice and competition from non-public schools, the unique A+ School approach will make their school more appealing to students and parents.

“We want to make our school more marketable so students and parents will choose us,” said Kelly.

The A+ School program is a dynamic initiative of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction in partnership with the N.C. Arts Council.  There are more than 60 A+ Schools across the state.