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China Grove elementary pursues arts program

SALISBURY — Teachers and administrators at one Rowan-Salisbury school hope to transform its classrooms with art.

On Monday, Lea Anne Thomas, principal of China Grove Elementary School, asked the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education for the green light to apply for the A+ Arts program.

A+ Arts is a national program that provides a framework for teachers and schools to integrate the arts into lessons and to use them to teach core concepts.

“I want to emphasize to you that this is not a canned program,” Thomas said. “This is not something that you purchase. … The good thing about this program is that we can do with it what we want.”

China Grove Elementary is one of 13 district schools that qualified for a charter-like restart. The school has opted to pursue arts integration as its restart plan.

In a Tuesday interview, Thomas said she heard about the A+ Arts program through a mail flier that advertised an informational session in Hickory.

Intrigued, Thomas attended the session with a staff member.

“It just seemed like something our school would really do well with,” she said.

From there, Thomas and her staff began discussing the possibility, doing research and visiting A+ Arts schools — including G.W. Carver Elementary in Kannapolis, which launched the A+ Arts integration this school year as a magnet program.

At Monday’s meeting, Thomas sought to correct possible misconceptions about the program.

“It’s not coloring; it’s not handing out coloring sheets,” she said.

Instead, teachers might use a dance to teach the plant life cycle, have students act out parts from a book they’re reading or have them compose music to learn principles of poetry.

“We really think this is going to help it stick in their minds. When you sit down to take a test, do you remember what you read out of a textbook or do you remember what you did? Our kids are going to remember what they did,” Thomas said.

Of the school’s 45 certified staff members, 44 voted on whether the school should pursue an A+ Arts program, and the decision was unanimous.

Teachers have already begun designing lessons and weaving art into their lessons. Thomas said the school is seeing results — discipline referrals are down from last school year, and students are excited about school.

“They like to be up and busy and collaborating with each other. That’s when we see the excitement level in our building, when our children are able to do something like that. … It really has been fantastic to see,” she said.

But it’s not quite that simple. China Grove Elementary must apply to become an A+ Arts school. If they’re accepted, they’ll have access to support, professional development and staff training, and creative lesson ideas. If the application is approved, staff development costs will total about $64,000 over three years, plus annual supply costs of $3,000 to $5,000.

According to Thomas and Jason Gardener, director of elementary education with Rowan-Salisbury, A+ Arts often provides grants covering part or all of the cost at certain schools. While the two are hopeful that China Grove Elementary, with a large economically disadvantaged population, will be able to secure that grant, they do have a contingency plan.

Should China Grove not qualify for A+ Arts grants, the school will apply for local grants or make use of the funding flexibility granted to it by the charter restart.

Thomas said China Grove is still dedicated to weaving the arts into lessons and has already begun the process.

“We’re sort of implementing things on the wing, without having been officially trained for it,” she said.

Over the past few months, teachers in each grade have collaborated with an art specialist and developed a lesson to share with the rest of the school.

An arts focus also will give China Grove Elementary the opportunity to collaborate with nearby schools — making use of South Rowan High School’s communications academy and Carson High School’s fine arts academy to help students get more in touch with lessons and their future.

“The learning opportunities for our students are really going to be vast,” Thomas said.

Thomas said she thinks the opportunity will benefit the community as a whole.

“The community loves our school. … We felt like this would be something that would give our community something to brag about again,” she said.

Applications for the coming school year are due to A+ Arts by Dec. 15.

The board unanimously agreed to give the school the green light to submit an application. Should it be approved, the program will be implemented at the start of the 2018-19 school year.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.

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