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White House advisory committee on the arts visits BHESA for Obama

Rachel Goslins, Executive Director of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, Benton Heights Elementary School of the Arts (BHESA), listens as students discuss why they enjoy attending Benton Heights. The committee is part of President Barack Obama's White House Advisory Committee of the Arts and Humanities.

Benton Heights Elementary School of the Arts (BHESA) will most likely be a point of conversation with President Barack Obama when his White House Advisory Committee of the Arts and Humanities returns to Washington for debriefing.

BHESA was notified in late January by the A+ Network of School Systems in Raleigh (an independent community advocate for the improvement in public education) that members of Obama's advisory committee wanted to visit a North Carolina A+ School. BHESA was recommended by the network as a school where the arts play an integral role in education.

"We're very honored, excited and thrilled," said Frank Casstevens, the arts coordinator at BHESA. "It's enormously exciting for us. We want to show them our philosophies and our belief that the arts are doing great things in Union County Public Schools."

The advisory committee toured the campus Thursday, (Feb. 10, 2011), spoke with students and staff and observed some of the classrooms. For the past year and a half, they have been touring United States schools, talking to focus groups and visiting pilot programs, all to gather information for President Obama.

"We're putting together a report on the state of art education trends and challenges over the last decade," said Rachel Goslins, Executive Director of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. "Before you can reinvest in arts education, you need to figure out what's working and what's not working, what the major hurdles are."

BHESA, which is in its third year as an A+ School, is unique in that its goal is to teach academics through the arts in all facets of what is taught on its campus. It is one of 45 schools statewide to participate in the A+ Network.

BHESA principal Michael Harvey explained to the White House committee how his school operates and how successful his school has been.

"Our staff as a school of the arts integrates the arts into everything we teach," Harvey said. "The three 'E's of our education here at Benton Heights are Enrichment, Engagement and Excitement, which will lead us to a fourth "E" -- Excellence."

Harvey said his teachers of the arts work with his core subject area teachers interconnecting in a way that proves the arts can be enriching, exciting and engaging to help students learn.

Benton Heights, with a student population of about 700, has 27 percent black, 14 percent white and 58 percent Hispanic. Ninety percent of its students qualify for free-or-reduced priced lunches.

"Many of these students have lots of challenges, challenges that are forgotten when they come to school here because they are surrounded by people, who first of all care about them," Harvey said. "Secondly, these students are involved in activities that are meaningful and relevant. They're getting the rigor here that will help them to be successful."

Harvey said through the initiatives with A+ School and becoming a school of the arts, Benton Heights is one of the highest in AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) growth of the 53 UCPS schools.

Goslins said she and the committee enjoyed the visit. "To come to a school where it is all very concrete, where you can see it on the walls, on the kids' faces and the teachers that you talk to, is a great affirmation of the concepts that we believe in and we've seen the research on. It's always great to see it in practice. You talk about it, but being able to see it in the faces of the kids and in the conversations you have with the teachers and a principal like Mr. Harvey, it's incredibly affirming to not only talk about it in principle, but to also see it in practice."

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Feb 14, 2011 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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