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W.A. Bess Elementary earns A+ School distinction

W.A. Bess Elementary earns A+ School distinction

Gaston County has its first A+ School, and the distinction goes to W.A. Bess Elementary. 

The school conducted a ceremony on Wednesday, August 14 to officially announce that it has been chosen by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and the N.C. Arts Council to serve as a North Carolina A+ School. 

Ceremony highlights were the presentation of the A+ School award and the A+ School banner, a performance by the Forestview High School drumline and cheerleaders, and an appearance by the school’s mascot, “Spike the Bulldog.”  Speakers included principal Laura Dixon, Superintendent of Schools W. Jeffrey Booker, and Board of Education chairman Brent Moore.

Sharing perspectives about what it means to be an A+ School were students Jennings Blowe and Shanzay Rahim, third grade teacher Nikki Simmons, and parent Laine Gutierrez. 

W.A. Bess is the first school in Gaston County to receive the A+ School distinction from the state, and it is among only a dozen schools in the western part of North Carolina that have earned the status.  To show how being an A+ School is an elite honor, there are only about 60 A+ Schools in the entire state.

The state’s A+ School program has been called the nation’s most successful whole-school transformation model using the arts.  The program began in North Carolina in 1995 with 25 schools, and similar programs have started in other states. 

The program has a proven record of increasing student proficiency, closing the achievement gap, decreasing disciplinary and student attendance issues, and increasing parental and community involvement – and teachers involved in the A+ School program say they are more effective in their work.

Teachers at W.A. Bess attended a week-long training program this summer in Raleigh.  The school has spent a considerable amount of time and energy over the past six months preparing to become Gaston County’s first A+ School.

▪ About the A+ School program

In an A+ School, arts education is added or infused across the curriculum.  Infusing the arts is approached in three ways.

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

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

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

Laura Dixon, principal of W.A. Bess Elementary and the current Gaston County Principal of the Year, stated: “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 than students who are not exposed to arts experiences on a regular basis.”

Dixon added, “Perhaps most important, students who are a part of an arts curriculum take what they learn with them – this benefits them later in school and later in life.  Once an understanding of and appreciation for the arts is in students, we believe that it benefits them for the rest of their lives.  This is what we hope for our students at W.A. Bess Elementary as we emerge as an A+ School.”

The ceremony was recorded, and it will air on Spectrum Cable Channel 21 (the Education Station for Gaston County Schools) the week of August 26.