A national benchmark in
Educational excellence through integration of the arts

6th Grade

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


Professional Development in the Arts Offers Teachers New Skills

Professional Development in the Arts Offers Teachers New Skills

Each year ArtSpace Charter School schedules early release days as a part of the school calendar.  When the students go home the teachers stay to plan, meet with other teachers, and most often to attend professional development workshops to learn more about effective teaching.  In December teachers chose to attend one of two arts workshops offered by teaching peers at ArtSpace.  Teachers either attended a printmaking workshop or a music and dance language workshop.  


1st grade teacher Ms. Claire inks up a fish for a print.

The intention of these workshops was to give the general education teachers more tools to integrate the arts in their own classrooms, creating more opportunities for two-way integration.  Two-way integration means arts objectives and “academic” objectives from the NC Essential Standards and/or the Common Core, are taught in conjunction with each other. Two-way integration is a consistent goal at ArtSpace and other A+ Schools who seek to use arts integration as a philosophical approach to educating children.

Kindergarten teacher Andrea Giglitto and third grade teacher Melissa Redden were two of the printmaking workshop facilitators.  These teachers received a scholarship to attend a week long retreat hosted by the Nature Printing Society at Wild Acres in Little Switzerland, NC earlier this school year.  It is a common occurrence for teachers at ArtSpace to teach workshops after returning from a professional development opportunity off campus.  Teachers and administrators at the school are always seeking new and interesting arts integration trainings that can be shared with the entire community upon their return. Ms. Melissa and Ms. Andrea rotated staff through a fish printing class and a basic brayer class, while ArtSpace parent and Nature Printing Society Education Coordinator, Bridget Benton, taught staff how to use a pasta machine as a printing press with watercolors. In Bridget’s class, participants also were exposed to ecodying with a rice steamer over the course of the afternoon.

Music and Dance Specialists Meg Boerner and Rebecca Triplett shared samples of music and dance recordings to illustrate vocabulary important to dance and music creation and performance.  Teachers who attended this workshop can use this information when assessing students in projects using dance to demonstrate knowledge of a unit.  Middle school science teachers Nick


Kindergarten teacher Ms. Rebekah helps a student create a print.

Rogowski and Lyn VanOver are happy to have vocabulary to use with the kids as they create movement or dance pieces in their classroom. Middle school language arts teacher Leila Wheless is eager to use the terminology in conjunction with the writing process.

Kindergarten teacher Rebekah Walker was very excited to attend the printmaking workshop.  She employed some of the techniques she learned with her kindergartners just days later.  She is also looking forward to employing Gyotaku (fish) printing to compare and contrast characteristics of animals which is a large part of the kindergarten science curriculum.

Silk Road Bazaar in Western North Carolina!

Silk Road Bazaar in Western North Carolina!

A Silk Road buddhist poet explaining his inspiration to become a poet.

Right before winter break sixth graders at ArtSpace journeyed back in time to Samarkand and the Great Silk Road of 650 CE.  Students have spent several weeks studying the bustling trade industry and the cultures that made up the Silk Road.  After their initial research students created individual personas someone could have encountered in Samarkand.  These characters included, but weren’t limited to,  innkeepers, buddhist monks, spice, wool and of course silk traders.

Attendants at this Silk Road Bazaar living museum were free to wander amongst the students and ask them questions about the products they were trading or the positions they held in Samarkand.  Sixth graders did an amazing job staying in character.  Finn Mahoney remained ever serious as he shared aspects of his life as a persian soldier protecting merchants from thievery.


Students performing a traditional indian dance

Sixth grade band members worked with music teacher Meg Boerner and performed a traditional Japanese piece.  Dance students from sixth grade studied and performed several dances under the guidance of dance teacher Rebecca Triplett. These dances originated from China, India, and Europe and were commonly performed on the Silk Road.
The Silk Road Bazaar is a new unit developed by sixth grade language arts and social studies teacher John Hall.  In the past the focus of the Medieval unit was European, and students hosted a Medieval Faire that included performances of mystery plays common during the Middle Ages.  Mr. Hall enjoyed teaching this unit but felt the concept of the Silk Road and focusing on the theme “an exchange of ideas” would require sixth graders to explore the diverse cultures and religions that existed all over the world during Medieval times.

Field Trips – Real World Integration

Field Trips – Real World Integration
4th grader examining insect life in the Cradle of Forestry.

4th grader examining insect life in the Cradle of Forestry.

SWANNANOA, NC, October 11, 2016 – At ArtSpace Charter School  arts integrated experiences are expected on a day to day basis; it is the educational philosophy in which the school is grounded. Teachers  and administrators at ArtSpace feel “real world” integration is hugely important as well. Only one month into the school year and every grade level at ArtSpace has been on a field trip or has one scheduled to happen before the end of October.

All of these field trips support the learning objectives students are working on in the classroom and offer another opportunity to apply this knowledge in the world they will use them in outside of school.

4th grader examining insect life in the Cradle of Forestry.

4th grader examining insect life in the Cradle of Forestry.

Kindergartners have visited an apple orchard after discussing the attributes of apples; how they can be the same and different. Comparing, contrasting and the exploration of attributes is a big part of the kindergarten curriculum.  7th and 8th graders explored team building on a hike to Black Balsam and 6th graders did the same at the Warren Wilson College Alpine Tower.

6th Grade Alpine Tower 2016

6th graders climbing the alpine tower at Warren Wilson College

Students in all grade levels at ArtSpace Charter School will experience an average of 4 field trips before the end of the school year.  ArtSpace takes a hands on, experiential approach to learning in the classroom and these field trips add the perfect punctuation mark to new learning because they offer real world experience in which to apply it.

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

John Hall Chosen to Attend a Shakespeare Workshop

John Hall Chosen to Attend a Shakespeare Workshop


John Hall, a teacher from ArtSpace Charter School has been selected as an NEH Summer Scholar from a national applicant pool to attend one of 26 seminars and institutes supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  The Endowment is a federal agency that, each summer, supports these enrichment opportunities at colleges, universities, and cultural institutions so that teachers can study with experts in humanities disciplines.

John will participate in a summer institute entitled “Scholarship and Performance: A Combined Approach to Teaching Shakespeare’s Plays.”  The two-week program will be held at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, New York and directed by Theatre for a New Audience. Mr. Hall is very excited about this workshop.  He looks forward to new perspectives and taking his work with students to a new level.

The 25 teachers selected to participate in the program each receive a stipend of $2,200 to cover their travel, study, and living expenses.

Topics for the 26 seminars and institutes offered for teachers this summer include A Reverence for Words: Muslim Cultures and the Arts; Abolition and Women’s Suffrage, 1830s–1920s; Abolitionism and the Underground Railroad; The African-American Freedom Struggle from Plessy to Brown; America’s Gilded Age and Progressive Era; Appalachia: Land, Literature, and Culture; Central Asia in World History; Charles Dickens; The Chinese Exclusion Act; Communism and American Life; The Dutch Republic, Britain, and the World Economy; Existentialism; Hannah Arendt; Immigration in California: Literature and Theater; Immigration, Industrialization, and Illness in 19th-Century America; John Steinbeck: Social Critic and Ecologist; Philosophers of Education; Punishment, Politics, and Culture; Race and Mental Health in History and Literature; Religious Worlds of New York; Roman Daily Life: Petronius and Pompeii; Shakespeare; Slavery, Equality, and the Constitution; U.S.-Russian/Soviet Relations, 1776-Present

The approximately 544 NEH Summer Scholars who participate in these programs of study will teach almost 68,000 American students the following year.




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.

Coming Soon To A Theater Near You!

Coming Soon To A Theater Near You!

SWANNANOA, NC- The ArtSpace stage will be filled with exciting performances, informances and special events throughout December and January!  This week is the 4th Annual Medieval Faire hosted by ArtSpace 6th graders.This is not a traditional performance; attendees will have the chance to wander the Faire to learn about “products and services” available during the Middle Ages.  Students will also present traditional mystery plays, choral music, and traditional social dances from the time period.  

6th graders prepare for their Medieval Faire performance.

6th graders prepare for their Medieval Faire performance.

Next week on Wednesday, December 16th, middle school students will present the Winter Arts Festival.  This night of entertainment will include performances from the 6th and 7th/8th grade bands under the direction of Ms. Meg Boerner, movies created by students in technology with Mr. Steve, and dance performances choreographed under the guidance of Ms. Mary.  This diverse group of  performances will highlight the skills and arts understanding the students have developed in their specific art forms over the past two quarters.  There will be a school performance at 2 PM and an evening performance at 6:00 PM.

In January, after winter break, the action ramps up again with a puppet performance created by the 7th and 8th grade drama elective.  Students have created big puppets and written stories to perform for the kindergarten- 5th grade classes at ArtSpace.  This performance is scheduled for Wednesday, January 13th.

The next day, January 14th, 3rd grade will host the 12th Annual Dinner Party Project.  This is a project inspired by a collaborative art piece created in the late 60’s and 70’s with the same name.  Third graders have researched an

Third graders prepare their plates for The Dinner Party.

Third graders prepare their plates for The Dinner Party.

individual who has had an impact on the world in some way through philanthropy, invention, etc.  They have used this research to create table place settings to represent this person.  On Thursday, January 14th the dinner table will be set and 3rd graders will present monologues as the person they researched.  The Dinner Party Project is one of the oldest event traditions at ArtSpace and one well-worth experiencing.

On that day, too, the school will be holding Musical auditions for students interested in participating in this year’s musical GO DOG GO!  It is shaping up to be a busy winter in the theater and we are excited to collaborate witho our students to create these wonderful learning opportunities.

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.


A+ 20th Anniversary Conference: Celebrate Arts Integration

A+ 20th Anniversary Conference: Celebrate Arts Integration
A+ Fellow Michelle Pearson leads attendees in an energizing movement celebration.

A+ Fellow Michelle Pearson leads attendees in an energizing movement celebration.

DURHAM, NC, August 3-5, 2015 – The A+ Schools program of the North Carolina Arts Council celebrated 20 years of arts integrated teaching and learning during its recent conference in Durham.  The A+ Schools program is a network of schools that use arts integration to reach students and ensure student success.  

Officially launching in 1995 (though the seeds of its existence stretch back even further), the A+ Program started as a challenge from the Winston-Salem based Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts as an answer to the charge to “do something positive for the school children of North Carolina.”  Since then it has expanded to over fifty schools in North Carolina and six states.  The program has received international recognition for its effectiveness.  Participants from across the United States were in attendance at this, the second national A+ conference.

The A+ program has a reputation for success in transforming schools.  The program was the subject of an 18 month longitudinal study by Dr. George Noblit, funded by the Ford Foundation.  His research, published in 2002, proved the A+ Program to be highly effective in developing positive school culture, engaging students in their learning, and improving educational outcomes for all students.  The program has drawn the attention of educational luminaries and public figures such as British creativity expert, Sir Ken Robinson, PBS NewsHour Education Reporter Dr. John Marrow (who also served as a keynote speaker at the conference), current Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and former President of the United States, Bill Clinton.

ArtSpace has been a member of the A+ Schools network since 2012, but members of the ArtSpace staff have been associated with the program for many years.  Many ArtSpace faculty currently serve as teaching fellows in the A+ Program including,  Lori Cozzi (since 1999), Josh Batenhorst (2007), Steve Lipe (2011), and Claire Spence (2013).

ArtSpace was well-represented at the national conference.  A group of 8 teachers (Lyn VanOver, Mary LaBianca, Meg Boerner, Beth Lexa, Melanie Meador, along with Lipe, Cozzi and Batenhorst) were in attendance.  The group of ArtSpace teachers presented three workshops:  “Creating a Collaborative School Culture” by Cozzi, Batenhorst and LaBianca; “Visual Literacy” by Lipe and Cozzi, and “Sensational Song and Script Writing” by VanOver and Batenhorst.  

Participants engage in "Speed Dating," an activity that allows attendees to share their questions and expertise quickly.

Participants engage in “Speed Dating,” an activity that allows attendees to share their questions and expertise quickly.

Through its commitment to excellence in education through arts integration, ArtSpace works to achieve the vision of reform for public schools that was started by the A+ Program some 20+ years ago.  Dr. Marrow, in commenting on the program said, “At this point in the history of our public education system, I truly believe that you have the opportunity to take this idea and turn it into a national movement.”  In working toward the school’s “national benchmark” vision, ArtSpace is proud to be a leading voice in that effort.  

To learn more about the A+ Schools Progam of the NC Arts Council visit: http://www.aplus-schools.ncdcr.gov/.


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.”