Endowment promises sustainable funding for arts-based teaching

Walk down the halls of one of North Carolina’s A+ Schools, and you’ll find children singing, dancing, drawing, or acting out their lessons.

A+ Schools of North Carolina is a signature program of the state arts council and is supported by the NC Arts Foundation. “A+ Schools started in NC in 1995 as an arts-based school reform model,” says Wayne Martin, Executive Director of NC Arts Foundation. “In thinking about how to make schools more effective, the belief was that the arts are fundamental to teaching and learning.” 

The program provides teachers and administrators with tools to weave art into every student’s learning experience by infusing standard curriculum with the arts. The result is the flourishing of creativity in schools where teachers find freedom to allow students to engage curriculum in ways they learn best. Increased student proficiencies and happier teachers have resulted.

Thirty-seven of North Carolina’s 100 counties are now using the A+ Schools model in their classrooms. Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas have adapted the program as well. And pockets of schools in Texas, Iowa, South Carolina and as far away as South Africa have implemented it.

Students in dance class

In 2023, Windgate Foundation, a long-time champion of A+ Schools, established an endowment at the North Carolina Community Foundation to strengthen the program’s ongoing sustainability. John Willingham, the vice chair of NCCF’s Board of Directors, also chairs the board of the NC Arts Foundation and was instrumental in connecting the need with a solution. Through endowments, NCCF helps organizations like the NC Arts Foundation establish permanent, sustainable funding streams that are invested and grow over time.  

The North Carolina Arts Foundation A+ Schools Endowment is a public/private partnership providing greater stability for A+ Schools of NC in the way of needed funds for longevity and greater impact.

“Windgate has been working with the NC Arts Foundation since 2011 supporting the work of A+ Schools of NC,” said Patricia Forgy, Executive Director of Windgate Foundation. “The endowment is a culmination of this long-term relationship and our belief in how an arts-integrated education can positively impact students, teachers, and entire communities.”

The endowment was seeded with $1 million, with the state legislature expected to provide additional funding. If that occurs, Windgate will provide additional funding for the endowment.

Having stable funding for the foreseeable future will allow the program to reach more educators throughout North Carolina. “If you’ve got a predictable amount of support, you can make future plans,” says Martin. “Living year-to-year makes that more difficult. With this funding, there will be more exciting ways the A+ philosophy and fundamentals can be shared across North Carolina.”

Students interacting with the teacher

Added reach equates to greater impact. “I’m excited about the boost in competence and resources this endowment will provide to reach more schools,” adds Jean Hendrickson, Director Emeritus for Oklahoma A+ Schools and Windgate’s Educational Consultant on the A+ Schools program. “The credibility of a foundation such as Windgate to challenge and engage others to participate will propel these worthy projects into their next big steps.”

The endowment benefits NC’s youngest residents most. “To be able to permanently help with the sustainability of A+ Schools of NC is one part of the story, but it really all boils down to the kids,” says Forgy. “Watching teachers using the arts to literally change how students learn – for the better – is an extraordinary thing to witness.”