Since 1995, A+ Schools of North Carolina has transformed how schools approach teaching and learning. Each school in the network teaches the state’s mandated curriculum in a collaborative, multidisciplinary way, and weaves the arts into every aspect of a child’s learning experience. Through professional development, technical support, and mentoring, schools develop a unique, creative approach that elevates student engagement and achievement, as well as teacher satisfaction. A+ Schools is the nation's longest-running arts-based, whole-school transformation model, and is a signature program of the North Carolina Arts Council.
For the 2022–2023 academic year, 67 pre-K through grade 12 schools in all regions of North Carolina are following the A+ model, impacting more than 30,000 students and 2,200 teachers and administrators. A+ Schools also has a cadre of more than 40 highly trained practitioners—the A+ Fellows—who provide engaging, hands-on professional development for schools across the A+ network.
We spoke with Michelle Burrows, the director of A+ Schools and a 25-year A+ veteran, about the impact of A+ Schools and the value of integrating the arts in education.
Where does your passion for the A+ philosophy come from?
I am passionate about creative, arts-infused, engaging learning, and the A+ model helps schools to build environments that support that. My own education as a child was creative and heavily infused with the arts, and that helped to make me a well-rounded person and a lifelong learner. I want that for all children and, really, for all teachers, too. To me, A+ practice is simply best practice in teaching and learning. I want all students, no matter their age, to have access to the kind of learning that sparks their curiosity and imagination and helps them to make meaningful and lasting connections.
In your experience, what does the A+ Schools philosophy accomplish?
A+ philosophy helps schools to engage their students in compelling and lasting ways. It allows schools to strengthen their morale, build their team, and make room for collaboration among teachers. It helps bring joy into the school building by creating an environment where teaching and learning are enjoyable, engaging, and relevant. And most important of all these days, as the teacher in the video says, A+ practice helps to remind teachers why they became educators in the first place.
What are some of your favorite examples of ways in which A+ schools or A+ teachers have integrated the arts in their standards?
There are so many ways; each school finds strategies that work for them and for their students. Remember, A+ implementation isn’t only about the arts; it’s about building a creative and engaging environment for everyone in the building. And while there are many examples of outstanding arts integration across the A+ network, some of my favorite ways that schools model A+ practice is in how they support and engage their staff. From standing, pep-rally style staff meetings to involving the teachers in collaborative art activities, when the school staff and administration are immersed in A+ practice and they experience creativity and joy, the practice naturally follows them into each classroom.
For schools interested in joining the A+ network, what advice do you have for getting started?
Because this is a whole-school transformation model, my advice to a teacher or administrator is always to start by talking with the rest of the staff about how implementing A+ practice could transform the school. Watching our informational videos, visiting an A+ school, and observing an A+ professional development session are all ways to see what it means to be an A+ school. Learn about the A+ model together as a staff, talk about your wonderings and excitement, and discuss and problem-solve potential challenges. This will go a long way to building the whole-school buy-in that is needed to enter the A+ network.
Head over to the A+ Schools website to learn more: https://www.ncarts.org/aplus-schools.