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Art in all they do: Black Mountain Primary integrates core subjects with the arts

Black Mountain News
In December, kindergartners and their families explored several modern stories that have been inspired by the classic “The Gingerbread Boy.”

BLACK MOUNTAIN - Students at Black Mountain Primary are learning more than just the basics.

Since 2011, the school has been an arts integrated schools. Known as A+ schools, they focus on teaching students state-mandated material in a multidisciplinary way, according to the North Carolina Arts Council.

Buncombe County Schools art education specialist Laura Mitchell said the program works by teaching core standards and art standards side-by-side.

“Arts integration is a great way for students to show their understanding of standards in a creative way,” Mitchell said. “They’re using collaboration skills, higher order thinking skills, creativity. There’s a great bit of risk-taking for students to perform or to create.”

In Cynthia Howie’s third-grade class, students are learning the basics of economics by participating in a holiday market. Howie’s students have studied business practices and even created their own products and set prices. At the end of the exercise, students will have earned money for production and will be able to use their profit to take purchase and take home other students products.

Black Mountain Primary is the only A+ school in Buncombe County Schools. Asheville City Schools’ Claxton Elementary is the only other A+ school in the county. There are 67 A+ schools in 37 counties across North Carolina.

The idea for A+ schools began in 1995 at the Kenan Institute before moving statewide to include 25 schools. These schools trained together and worked to understand and incorporate art into all school subjects.

Howie, the A+ coordinator for Black Mountain Primary, said the school was implementing the ideas of art integration before their official designation.

To become recognized as an arts integrated school, Black Mountain Primary teachers attended an intensive five-day professional development workshop to better understand different learning styles and how to weave core standards with art standards in a way that benefits students.

“Learning is no longer pencil and paper,” Howie said. “Students become lifelong learners who can apply collaborative and innovative methods for problem solving.”

Each year Black Mountain Primary sets A+ goals. This year, one of the goals was to form community partnerships.

Art teacher Jolie Atkins helped achieve this goal with second-graders.

While learning about Navajo culture and weaving in the classroom, students also learned the process of shearing a sheep and preparing the wool with dye. To put some of this knowledge into practice, the class worked together to create a weaving of their own with yarn donated from Black Mountain Yarn Shop and looms created by parent volunteers.

“Students have many different learning styles and multiple intelligences, so if we can touch on one or more of them — whether that is movement or music or art — then we can create links which will help them to develop a better understanding of what they are learning,” Atkins said.