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CMS Arts in Our Schools: Creating community and celebrating culture through the arts

For Tim Foskey, choir director at David W. Butler High School, having a shared experience and working toward the same goal are what bring his students together in class.

“Here, a lot of times, is a safe space for students, where they don’t feel judged or made fun of,” said Foskey. “Everyone is supportive of one another.”

Students dancingMarch is designated in the U.S. as the month to highlight arts in schools collectively, or by individual discipline (Dance, Music, Theatre, Visual Arts). Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ Arts Education department supports more than 650 dance, music, theater and visual arts teachers in its K-12 Visual and Performing Arts program. Approximately 100,000 students districtwide are involved in arts instruction.

At Butler, Foskey said they have several choir groups from beginners to advanced, as well as a men’s, women’s and mixed groups. Foskey also teaches general music for the self-contained Exceptional Children classes. Last year, he shared classroom needs through the DonorsChoose nonprofit and was able to purchase xylophones and boomwhackers for the students to use.

Students performing on street“A person’s life is not as rich without any exposure to the arts,” said Foskey. “One of the most fundamental things in all of human culture is music.”

Adrian Zoto, a freshman at Butler, said he started singing in eighth grade at McClintock Middle and enjoyed it enough to pursue it in high school.

“I really like exploring harmonies and how sounds work together,” said Zoto. “For some people, [music] is their passion. Especially for me, I am planning on making music for my career. So it’s nice to have a class where I can explore my creativity.”

Chorus students on risersAnd at Albemarle Road Middle School, creativity and an appreciation for different cultures is what Lorraine Crittendon, dance instructor, tries to foster in her students. In sixth grade, students focus on European dance. They work on Latin dance in seventh grade, and in eighth grade, students work on Afro-Latin dances.

Crittendon said students will come to class expressing how they aren’t dancers, but over time learn that they do enjoy dance or at least enjoy watching it.

“Even if I just inspire these kids when they’re adults to pay it forward to support dance, I feel like I made a difference,” said Crittendon.

Eighth grader Leighland Dozier likes Crittendon’s class because of how comfortable she feels, as well as the content she learns. She has taken dance classes with Crittendon since the sixth grade.

“It’s great to learn about different cultures and how they differ from us,” she said. 

student performers posing in front of a sculptureUnique Allen, seventh grader at Albemarle Road Middle, also enjoys learning about different cultures and how expressive dance allows her to feel.

“[Dance] gives you another outlet to be yourself,” said Allen. 

Crittendon said she feels support from her school and the district. Crittendon works closely with teachers in other electives, as well as core content teachers, to align her instruction with standards students are learning in class.

“I tell my kids that this is not the most important thing they’re going to do today, and that’s why they should be here,” she said. “They should be able to come in here, talk about history and culture and the different fields of dance, and try something new.”