A national benchmark in
Educational excellence through integration of the arts


15 Years of Shakespeare in the Valley!

15 Years of Shakespeare in the Valley!

AN ARTSPACE JOURNEY – John Hall, 6th Grade Language Arts and Social Studies Teacher

I began my teaching job at ArtSpace Charter School in the fall of 2003, after almost three years teaching at West McDowell Junior High.  Before I became a teacher, I worked in professional theatre as an actor, director and producer.  Through my experience with children’s theatre, I experienced the power of creative dramatics with young people. When I began teaching at ArtSpace, a school dedicated to integrating the arts with the standard course of study, I knew I could utilize my theatre background in the classroom.  So, in my first year as a language arts and social studies teacher at ArtSpace I worked with our drama specialist Josh Batenhorst to introduce the works of William Shakespeare to sixth and seventh grade.  Why Shakespeare? Integrating the plays of William Shakespeare into the language arts and socials studies curriculum allowed me to teach figurative language, poetry and storytelling to students within a historical and social context, and it allowed our drama specialist to teach the theatre arts curriculum as well. Plus, it was fun!

Female student standing next to an older man with a clipboard on a stage

Mr. Hall giving notes to a student in the 2015-2016 production of The Merry Wives of Windsor

Our first productions, Hamlet (7th grade) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (6th grade) took place in my classroom.  We used shortened versions of the plays, with slightly altered translations of the text to make them more accessible to students. It was a challenging endeavor, to say the least, though ultimately a success and the feedback from students, families and staff encouraged me to continue the yearly project.  Since ArtSpace, a fairly new school in the early 2000’s, didn’t yet have its own theatre, the next few years we rented spaces from local venues such as NC Stage Company, Belk Theatre at UNCA and The Asheville School to perform our Shakespeare plays.  Our productions grew in ambition, and students even performed scenes for a retirement home in nearby Black Mountain.  After a few years, Josh (Captain Josh as we all called him) challenged me to drop the slightly-altered versions and have students perform the true Shakespearean texts. Working solely with sixth graders at that point, I was concerned students might struggle with the difficult words, but ultimately agreed that the beauty of Shakespeare’s imagery and writing was worth the struggle.  It was a wise move, and the experience of hearing Shakespeare’s soaring language coming from our students was magical.

In our new theatre space that opened in 2008, sixth graders have tackled such plays as Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, Romeo & Juliet, Richard III, MacBeth, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry V, As You Like It and The Comedy of Errors (set in the Star Wars universe no less!)  Captain Josh left ArtSpace a few years ago, but our current drama specialist Beth Lexa has continued working with sixth grade to bring Shakespeare’s plays to the stage.

Two female middle school students standing on stage wearing Elizabethan clothing

From the 2016-2017 production of The Merchant of Venice

Not only does utilizing Shakespeare’s works enable me to teach language and oral expression in a historical context, the plays are also able to be used as vehicles to address social and ethical issues.  For example, last year’s sixth graders performed The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew, two highly controversial plays – Merchant for its anti-Semitism, and Shrew for its sexism.  Because I knew we’d be performing these plays in March, I began the school year focusing on the theme of “status” and how ancient cultures developed social systems based on levels of status, often regarding gender. Furthermore, when we began preparing for our plays, students conducted interviews with family members regarding moments in their lives when they were aware of status, and how that awareness affected them. The results of these family conversations were astounding. Parents and grandparents related experiences of gender inequality and racial profiling, among other memories.  Students also studied the history of anti-Semitism and how it spread over Europe and eventually the U.S. In fact, at the same time students were rehearsing The Merchant of Venice, the U.S. saw an uptick in anti-Semitic hate crimes.  Though not always pleasant, this exploration of status in ancient cultures and our own society deepened students’ understanding of the two plays they were performing as well as the human proclivity for exclusion and alienation.

What has been the legacy of fifteen years of Shakespeare in the Swannanoa Valley? Former students and parents of former students relate stories of how their experiences with Shakespeare’s plays in sixth grade at ArtSpace positively affected their lives.  Several former students are still performing on stage in high school and college, and tell us that their love of theatre and performance began with their sixth grade Shakespeare plays. Though our yearly Shakespeare plays have given students the opportunity to develop a love of performing, they’ve also given struggling students an opportunity to experience success where they haven’t in traditional academics. Some of my best memories from the Shakespeare plays have been when struggling students or students with special needs were able to achieve success and receive positive feedback from peers.  The confidence these students received from their success in the plays stuck with them, affecting other areas of their learning and their lives.  These memories are most gratifying.

So, as March approaches, ArtSpace sixth grade is once again in preparation for our Shakespeare plays. As in 2003, our plays will be Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  To quote from Hamlet, “The play’s the thing!”

This article can also be found online at the Black Mountain News


8th Graders at ArtSpace Make Chemistry Visual

8th Graders at ArtSpace Make Chemistry Visual

An example of an elemental trading card

All across North Carolina 8th grade students learn about the basics of chemistry, as it is a major focus of the NC Essential Science Standards.  Students explore the periodic table of elements, what the labels mean, and how the table is organized. Students also investigate the structure of an atom and the types of atomic bonds, as well as the basics of a balanced chemical equation after a reaction.

At ArtSpace Charter School 8th graders discover, think deeply about, and experiment with these concepts through several visual arts projects facilitated by their teacher Nick Rogowski.  One of these projects is to represent the properties, and atomic information of a specific element, by producing an elemental trading card. After exploring the information presented about each element presented in the periodic table, the students research the origins and organization of the periodic table.  To assess their understanding Mr. Nick assigns a painting in which students create artistic metaphors to represent the categories and organization of the Periodic Table.

Organization of the periodic table painting

Brochure about different types of molecular bonds

Next students move beyond the elements to an exploration of molecular bonds.  Students create a “travel

brochure” to solidify their understanding. One of the final concepts students investigate in 8th-grade chemistry is the “balancing of elements” after a chemical reaction.  8th graders at ArtSpace observe the work of sculptor Alexander Calder and create mobiles of balanced chemical equations.

Certainly, all of this science could be studied in a textbook, and a few short answer questions might suffice to assess basic understanding of this unit, but students at ArtSpace create connections between science and visual art, which helps solidify deeper understanding, as well as allowing them to be creative as they demonstrate their knowledge. Through visual art projects teacher Nick Rogowski has also required his students to synthesize the information they have learned at a much more sophisticated level than short answer questions ever could.  That’s the power of arts integration!

Examples of Alexander Calder inspired balanced equation mobiles



States of Matter – A Science and Visual Art Exploration

States of Matter – A Science and Visual Art Exploration

dsc_0057Recently 8th grade science students at ArtSpace have explored states of matter, the law of conservation, and physical and chemical changes. Middle school science teacher Nick Rogowski and Visual Arts teacher Jocelyn Reese found this content the perfect opportunity for “two-way integration.”  Two-way integration is the process where one or more arts concept is taught at the same time as a concept in a non-arts class.  After a week of lessons about states of matter in science class Ms. Jocelyn joined the class to create an art piece using crayons and a heat gun to manipulate the wax.

dsc_0061Before students began working with the assigned medium they reviewed and discussed the basic visual art principles emphasis, balance, and color theory.  Students then went to work creating their art pieces.  Some students chose to illustrate the science concepts as they worked on the composition of their piece while others focused more on experiencing a new art process.  Mr. Nick believes that either intention worked to solidify deeper understandings of the science concepts for all students.dsc_0048

When the pieces were complete students presented them to their class.  Students spoke to the scientific concepts represented, or experienced when creating the work. Students also shared the techniques they used to manipulate the crayons.  As audience members students offered helpful critiques to the presenting artists.  This critique session offered students another opportunity to express their understanding of the art and science objectives.

ArtSpace Charter School Elects and Inducts 2016-17 Student Council

ArtSpace Charter School Elects and Inducts 2016-17 Student Council

On Wednesday, August 31st ArtSpace Charter School had their elections for the 2016-17 Student Council. Student Council img_20160902_110918328_hdrserves as a student government program which provides opportunities for leadership and a “channel” for students to voice their concerns or requests for the school. Students in 2-8th grade vote for a class representative in their homerooms.  The entire student body votes for the executive council, comprised of the offices of President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer.  It was a tight race for all positions and the winners were inducted the following day (see below) and were ready to serve the student body immediately.

The student council run various fundraisers throughout the school year in order to purchase items to better the school.  The drinking fountain in the arts wing of the building was purchased with funds raised by the  student council.  Funds from the 2015-16 Student Council were used to purchase the most unique school chairs and a new gas grill for the school that will be used at the upcoming 3rd Annual Community Cookout on Friday, September 16th.

img_1960Class Representatives

Mr. Eric’s Class:          Max Condon
Ms. Ali’s Class:           Phoenix Anderson
Ms. Annabell’s Class: Lucille Connor
Ms. Mary’s Class:       Evan Swanson
Ms. Melissa’s Class:   Hayden Tilson
Ms. Tonya’s Class:      Wyatt Carroll
Ms. Victoria’s Class:   Arabella Lusk
Ms. Marni’s Class:      Killian Hoyer
Ms. Heather’s Class:   Ian McDuffy
Mr. Hall’s Class:          Aralyn Crandle
Ms. Lyn’s Class:         Jackson Knoll
Mr. Nick’s’s Class:      Ora Kerr
Ms. Megan’s Class:    Maya Diehn
Ms. Leila’s Class:        Indigo Glenn
Mr. Ian’s Class:           Mason Sneed

Executive Council

Secretary:                    Jayde Hadley
Treasurer:                    Judah Cooper
Vice President:            Grace Williamson
President:                    Ava Yurchak



SWANNANOA, NC – March 3rd – Students at ArtSpace took part in the school’s third annual STEAM Expo.  STEAM is an expansion of the National Science Foundation’s acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to include an “A” for Arts.  ArtSpace and other organizations have joined the movement that links artistic thinking with STEM through creativity, critical thinking,

5th graders demonstrating chemical and physical change.

5th graders demonstrating chemical and physical change.

communication, and collaboration. ArtSpace’s STEAM Expo highlights inquiry based projects that integrate and utilize art in some way as well.

The highly interactive event involved half of the student body demonstrating projects while the other half toured the building and recorded observations. After forty-five minutes, the students switched roles and the demonstrators became presenters and vice versa.  Many concepts were covered across the grade levels from Forces and Motion to Ecosystems to the Law of Conservation.

5th graders demonstrate energy conservation through dance.

5th graders demonstrate energy conservation through dance.

Students at all grade levels took great pride in the projects they presented.  They explained the concepts from their experiments as they interacted with observers.  The inquiry based projects give

1st graders with their balloon cars.

1st graders with their balloon cars.

students the opportunity to create hypotheses, test them, gather results and create conclusions based on the results.  The EXPO requires students to understand the conclusions and concepts they have learned well enough to present them to a live audience, not just to a teacher.  This extension requires a deep sense of understanding from each young scientist taking part in the EXPO.  ArtSpace believes that integrated experiences like these “stick” with students, making their learning richer and deeper resulting in a life-long passion for learning.

Koresh Dance Company Workshops at ArtSpace

Koresh Dance Company Workshops at ArtSpace

SWANNANOA, NC- ArtSpace 5th, 7th and 8th graders took part in dance workshops with Philadelphia based Koresh Dance Company last week. School closings due to inclement weather kept these students from enjoying a performance the previous week by the renowned dance company but this didn’t prevent them from being inspired to do great work with the company when they were on campus.


7th and 8th grade dance elective students learning a combination from Koresh dancers

7th and 8th grade dance elective students experienced a jazz/ballet/modern fusion technique class  much like those the Koresh Dancers experience when they are preparing for a new performance.  Students warmed up and learned a short combination that emphasized line, dynamics and phrasing.  The Koresh dancers were impressed by the elective students’ focus and drive during the lesson.

According to ArtSpace dance teacher Mary LaBianca one of the qualities Koresh Dance Company is known for is their use of non-traditional music or the spoken word as their instrumentation.  When working with the company 5th graders choreographed a dance to the words of a Tupac Shakur poem (seen below). In small groups, students created a routine, rehearsed and then recreated it for their audience. Each group of students,

5th graders performing their Tupac piece to music.

5th graders performing their Tupac piece to music.

working with the dancers, created dynamic movement pieces that followed a rhythm while telling a story. Collaboratively, students offered movement to illustrate each part of the poem.  After an evaluation period, the groups then adapted their work based on the feedback.  All of this work was done without musical accompaniment. After the the groups had performed using the lyrics of the poem they circled up and performed their routine to an instrumental piece of music. In that moment students realized that although they had not choreographed to music the poem had it’s own inherent rhythm.

ArtSpace is very thankful to Rae Geoffrey Associate Director of Diana Wortham Theater who facilitated this exciting opportunity for these students

The Rose That Grew From Concrete

Did you hear about the rose that grew

from a crack in the concrete?

Proving nature’s law is wrong it

learned to walk with out having feet.

Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,

it learned to breathe fresh air.

Long live the rose that grew from concrete

when no one else ever cared.

Tupac Shakur – From the book The Rose that Grew from Concrete


Coming Soon To A Theater Near You!

Coming Soon To A Theater Near You!

SWANNANOA, NC – The ArtSpace Stage has some exciting theatre and multi-media productions coming in October that promise to engage, educate, and entertain.  Coming next week, on October 8, the 7/8th grade Theatre Arts elective will present S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.  This play is a one hour version of the classic young adult novel

Make plans now to see The Outsiders!

Make plans now to see The Outsiders!

chronicling the tale of Ponyboy Curtis, his brothers, and the rivalry between street gangs the Greasers and the Socs.  Addressing the important social issues of gangs, violence, and class struggle, the play is an opportunity for students to think deeply about the lasting consequences of momentary decisions.  “The play shows that no matter how much money you have,” says 8th grader Daniel Stearns, “you still have to deal with stress and tragedy.”  The play will be presented at 10:00 AM for school audiences and 6:00 PM for the community.  Please note that some of the play’s themes may not be suitable for younger audiences.

Next up, on Wednesday, October 14, the sixth grade will present their annual exploration of the Greeks and Homer’s Odyssey with their production Greek Lightning!  This show uses parodies of music from the musicals Grease and A Chorus Line to explore the tale of Odysseus and his treacherous journey home from the Trojan War as he tries to be reunited with his wife Penelope.  “This is the third time we have presented this version of The Odyssey,” said sixth grade language arts/social studies teacher John Hall, “It was something (former theatre teacher) Mr. Josh and I wrote several years ago and I think the students really enjoy it.”   

“It is really fun!  My favorite part are the songs because they are fun and help you remember the story,” said Chloe Raines, sixth grader.  

ArtSpace student, Kai’ana Ghassabian, added, “We’ve been studying it in pretty much every class – music, drama, theatre and social studies.  We sing the songs in (science/math teacher) Ms. Lyn’s class too.  They get stuck in your head.”

“What was really fun was getting to choreograph the dance for the song One.” said Emile Rizzo-Banks.  “It was more fun to do that than to just do what the teacher asked us to do.  (Dance teacher) Ms. Mary asked us what our ideas were, we would show her, and she would help us put it together to tell the story.”

The school show of Greek Lightning is at 2:00 PM, Wednesday October 14, and the community show is at 6:00 that same night.

5th grade students collaborate on their art/science projects.

5th grade students collaborate on their art/science projects.

Finally, on Wednesday, October 21, students from the fifth grade will present a multi-media show about the human body systems.  Students have been studying the different systems of human anatomy.  As collaborative teams they create life-size drawings of the various systems during their science class, write songs in music about the systems that include vocabulary from the science curriculum, and choreograph dances that illustrate how each system supports the body.  “We study about the systems and then work together in all of the classes to put together songs and dances and art.  Not every group has the same system, but we learn about the other systems from each other,” said fifth grader Autumn Young.  

A finished work.  That project takes guts!

A finished work. That project takes guts!

The fifth grade body system performances are at 2 PM and 6 PM on Wednesday, October 21.


Seventh Graders Experience the Age of Discovery with a Mock Trial

Seventh Graders Experience the Age of Discovery with a Mock Trial

SWANNANOA, NC – Seventh graders at ArtSpace closed out their unit on the Age of Discovery with a mock trial experience.  Students read about the life and times of Christopher Columbus and created an illustrated timeline of his life and adventures in the Americas.  Students then explored various characters in order to represent them in the mock trial.  The characters included in the trial were Columbus, his crew, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain and a group of indigenous peoples from the Americas (The Tainos).  

A lawyer questioning the King and Queen of Spain about their choices.

A lawyer questioning the King and Queen of Spain about their choices.

Each of the characters involved were given a chance to defend their actions during the Age of Discovery.  Some students played the roles of the characters mentioned above, while others took on the role of lawyers asking difficult questions to the participants.  Whether prosecutor, defender, or witness, all parties needed to be well-prepared in order to play out the trial.

After the trial was complete students wrote a 5 paragraph essay in response to the question “who should be blamed for the death of 2-3 million Tainos?”  This project was designed so students could experience history in a variety of ways, accessing individual learning styles. Mr. Ian used the trial to assess students’ knowledge of the time by noting the detail of the lawyers’ questions and the thoroughness and thoughtfulness of the responses of the witnesses.

Mr. Ian guided students through this difficult time of history.  Columbus’ discoveries

Columbus' men being questioned on the witness stand.

Columbus’ men being questioned on the witness stand.

opened a New World to Europeans, but caused great suffering for native peoples.  By requiring his students to “live in the shoes” of the characters involved in this controversial time, students were forced to see the experience from both sides.  In the end, the students were left with a greater understanding of the time period, as well as increased awareness about the interplay of multiple perspectives in history.

Ms. Heather Travels to Lexington and Concord

Ms. Heather Travels to Lexington and Concord

Swannanoa, NC August 30, 2015 — After completing her first year as ArtSpace’s 5th grade language arts and social studies teacher Ms. Heather journeyed to Massachusetts for a workshop that focused on the beginning of the American Revolution.  Ms. Heather and I recently took some time to talk about this fantastic experience and how it came to happen.

Erin: What was the workshop you attended and who hosted it?

Heather: I attended a workshop in Concord, Massachusetts called “At the Crossroads of a Revolution”.  It was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), as part of their Landmarks series, and hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Society.  Over 200 people applied, and I was honored to be one of about 60 that were chosen.  The workshop focused around April 19, 1775, the night Paul Revere made his famous ride from Boston to Lexington and Concord to warn the Minutemen and the Sons of Liberty that the Redcoats had left Boston by land to seize weapons and other provisions.

Paul Revere

Statue of Paul Revere

Erin: How did you find out about the workshop?
Heather: Well, Ms. Lori did a NEH workshop in the Summer of 2014 in Mesa Verde, studying Ancient Pueblo culture, and she brought back some of that rich knowledge she gained to my 5th graders last year.  She also informed the ArtSpace staff of the programs that the NEH offers each summer, and encouraged us to take a look at their offerings. I love learning, and welcome any opportunity to find quality professional development, so of course, I went to the website and made a list of all of the workshops that  interested me, were related to my curriculum, and worked for my family, time-wise.  I narrowed it down to the Crossroads workshop, and thankfully, was accepted!
Erin: What was the most exciting or intriguing aspect of the workshop?
Old North Bridge

The Old North Bridge

Heather: So many things!!  We spent the week at various places along the Old Battle Road, the road that runs from Boston to Concord.  Much of the road is preserved, so we were literally in places where soldiers marched and history was made.  I would say that my favorite place was the Old North Bridge, the site of the first battle of the Revolutionary War, and “the shot heard ’round the world.”  I remember standing there during a moment of reflection, and just imagining what it must have been like, Minutemen on one side, Redcoats on the other, about to battle for a cause that meant so much, and changed the course of our country so greatly.  Aside from the bridge, we visited many other historical landmarks and museums that really enriched the experience.  I really tried to soak it all in, because it was just so interesting to me.  History is definitely the most exciting subject, in my opinion- everything is a story! Speaking of stories, another really exciting aspect of visiting Concord, Massachusetts, is it is where many famous transcendentalist authors resided, including Henry David Thorough, one of my favorites.  I visited Walden Pond, and the site where he lived in the woods and wrote Walden Pond! We also spent a day in Boston, which is one of my favorite cities, and I was treated to a real Italian cannoli from Mike’s Pastry Shop! Yum!!

Walden Pond

Erin: How will you use this experience to inform your teaching in 5th grade this year?
Heather: I’m really excited to teach the Revolutionary War this year, and every year going forward, thanks to this incredible experience.  Visiting landmarks gives you a new perspective and appreciation for events marked in history, and I hope to be able to share that enthusiasm and deeper knowledge and understanding with my 5th graders.  I took millions of pictures, and many videos, so that will help to inform my teaching, and collaborating with other 5th grade teachers from around the country definitely inspired me as well.  I look forward to relaying what I learned through arts-integration and collaboration with my teaching partner, as well as our Arts Integration Team!
ArtSpace Charter School is a tuition-free public charter school serving approximately 400 elementary and middle school students in the Asheville and Buncombe County areas of North Carolina.  The ArtSpace vision is to be “a national benchmark in educational excellence through integration of the arts.”