A+ educator stands in front of personal flags created by workshop attendees

A+ in Action: Summer Workshops for Teachers Yield New Experiences for Students

Author: Tom Nevels

School’s in for summer!

When students begin their summer vacation, teachers at many A+ schools return to learning at an A+ Schools of North Carolina summer conference. Each summer, the staff of multiple A+ schools come together for networking and professional development, led by teams of A+ Fellows who plan and facilitate sessions focused on the A+ Essentials, building a creative culture, and exploring arts-integrated curriculum. Through additional individual, small group, whole-school, and cross-school experiences, educators reflect on their instructional practices, build comfort in creative teaching and the arts, and learn to implement A+ practice.

In summer 2023, the staff of the Arts Based School, in Winston-Salem, joined us for a three-day conference in Charlotte.

The Arts Based School is a longtime A+ school, having joined the network in 2005. The school’s mission reflects the belief that the arts are innately powerful forms of learning and self-expression for all children. The school’s rigorous academic program follows the N.C. Standard Course of Study and the visual and performing arts are deeply integrated. The Arts Based School’s educators say they have made direct connections from their summer staff development work to their classroom instruction. They say two A+ workshops in particular had an impact.

Let your flag fly

In the workshop “Flags to Remember: Expressing Personal History,” educators learned how flags represent history and make statements about identity, culture, and country. Two of the focus questions were How can flags express values, beliefs, culture, and history? and How can designing flags encourage students to learn about a country, a movement, or an individual person? A+ Fellows and facilitators Alder Keene and Maggie Bennett artfully integrated principles of visual design with math concepts such as ratio, proportion, and placement.

Student flags hung at Arts Based School
Students' flags fly outside an Arts Based School middle school classroom.


Through the creation of autobiographical flags, educators reflected on ways that documenting personal history can influence a classroom’s climate. In reflecting on the workshop, one participant commented, “It was a wonderful example of an introductory lesson that establishes community and personal voice/autonomy.” Another noted, “This might be a wonderful way to help students make a connection to their heritage.”

The past reverberates in the present

“Modern Muralists and Migration Stories,” a workshop developed and facilitated by A+ Fellow September Krueger, invited participants to investigate how the visual art form of murals helps us answer civics questions that have personal, social, and economic significance. Participants investigated the stories of a variety of immigrants over the decades and then drafted images that shared one person’s American story.

A+ Fellow and educator in mural and migration workshop
A+ Fellow September Krueger leads "Modern Muralists and Migration Stories" workshop.


In bringing that history to life, many educators found personal connections for themselves and their students. One teacher remarked, “It was a beautiful experience, replete with team building, a deep dive into cultural influences and imagery, and collecting many ideas onto one canvas. A real treat!” Another participant, commenting on how focusing on the specifics helped them see the bigger picture and find connection, said “My story is a part of the fabric of the larger story of migration.”

This fall, seventh-grade students at the Arts Based School worked with muralist Neka King at Southeast Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA), in Winston-Salem, to create a community mural for the exhibit If These Walls Could Talk, and an additional mural at their school reflecting “the journeys each student has made to be at the school [and] their home circumstances.”

Arts Based student mural in hallway
Community mural by seventh-grade students on display at the Arts Based School.


Close up of community mural at Southeast Center for Contemporary Art
Arts Based School students worked at SECCA with muralist Neka King to create a community mural for the exhibit If These Walls Could Talk.


The test of success

Robin Hollis, the Arts Based School’s director, and Mary Siebert, the arts magnet coordinator, know that time spent in training during the summer is valuable both for staff and students. A post on the Arts Based School’s Facebook page following the summer conference reads, “Our teachers have spent these last three days dancing, laughing, acting, creating, and learning how to enrich our core instruction with the arts. We are excited by the ideas we are bringing back for our ABS students this year!” As the school expands to a second campus and new educators join the staff roster, the test of success continues to be as simple and effective as it was 23 years ago when the school was founded. As Robin put it, “You’re doing it right when it feels joyful.”

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