Albert Einstein reportedly once said “Creativity is intelligence having fun,” a mantra used Thursday at South Florence High School as it hosted more than 120 teachers from across the state for a conference aimed at showing how infusing the curricula with fine arts helps student excel across the board.
South Florence is one of 46 ABC sites across the state and was selected to be spotlighted in the biannual school visit. The Arts in Basic Curriculum (ABC) Project is a collaboration hosted at Winthrop University and funded by the SC Arts Commission and the state Department of Education with the goal of encouraging and helping schools to enhance their fine arts programs and compete for precious grant funding for them.
ABC Project Director Christine Fisher, a former Florence 1 music teacher and a South Carolina Teacher of the Year, said South Florence was an obvious choice for others to learn from because it is a success story that shows with careful planning and methodical implementation any school can grow its arts program and have students flourish.
“South Florence has worked so hard and they have expanded all of their arts programs,” Fisher said. “They are offering theater, they are offering media arts, they have expanded their music program. … They really have gone at this and done a great job and some schools try to do too much too soon, but South Florence has been very meticulous with following that strategic plan one step after another so that it’s very solid when it’s implemented.”
Fisher said showing off the school helps other fine arts teachers and administrators not only have an avenue to share best practices, but to see that they too can start building a comprehensive arts program.
South Florence has been a designated ABC site for more than 10 years and is currently one of two in Florence School District 1, along with its neighbor Southside Middle School.
The ABC Project provides districts with professional development, collaboration and assistance in writing grants, both for the SC Arts Commission ABC grants and other federal and corporate grants, to help grow and deepen arts programming.
Through the ABC Project, South Florence has successfully applied for and received $18,000 from the state department every year since 2003, and has also earned SC Arts Commission money of about $5,000-$8,000 each year, totaling more than $25,000 each year to grow arts programming. Now highly interested music and visual arts students have enough class offerings that they can take two credits a year, effectively taking intensive fine arts coursework throughout their entire high school career.
South Florence Assistant Principal Jackie Shuler said the impact of being an ABC school and adding classes and funding has been immeasurable for students, who with arts education research shows have fewer dropout rates, better test scores and more educational engagement across the board.
She said for years the arts were looked at as something on the side of education, a part of school that was often cut when budgets got tight, but at South Florence, they view it as something that is indispensable for student success in school and beyond.
“What artists will want you to say is that art is worth it for art’s sake,” Shuler said, “but also for students, it brings the ability to memorize, to engage that memory, with singing and dancing and drama, all those things require you to be able to memorize. And once you can do that you realize how much easier all learning is. … Medicine, engineering, teaching, health care, everything requires this ability to think and see things in your head.”