Onslow County Schools Set the Standard for Arts Education

By Sharyn Matthews on April 28, 2011 at 2:10 pm EST


As a freshman in high school‚ Claire Zawistowsski already knew her professional ambition.

Years later‚ she realized that dream by accepting the choral director’s position at her alma mater‚ Jacksonville High School.

This talented Onslow County native was so affected by her high school musical experiences – in the classroom and on stage – that she was determined to come back and share her love of the arts with students.

“Onslow County Schools has a really fine support system in music from the elementary grades on through high school‚” she says.

The system’s arts education program includes visual arts as well as the performing arts of drama‚ band‚ chorus and orchestra. Countywide support‚ including the efforts of the Jacksonville Arts Council‚ helps students compete in local‚ regional and state contests and showcase their work.

Onslow County schools have a 50-year tradition of bringing arts education to students. Over the years‚ the program has expanded to include a variety of choral and visual arts programs. Full-time band‚ choral and visual art teachers are on staff in all middle and high schools. Nearly 5‚000 middle school students take band or chorus.

Onslow County schools also have been on the forefront of a national trend to include orchestra in the instructional repertoire. Staffed by six full-time strings teachers‚ the school system is one of only about two dozen in North Carolina to offer orchestra.

“As a school system‚ we value arts education as an important component of a child’s total education‚” says Earl Taylor‚ director of middle schools and arts education for the Onslow County School District. “Research shows that children who participate in the arts score higher on SAT tests and in other achievement areas.”

Zawistowsski also recognizes how the arts can impact learning levels in other academic areas.

“We do it all in one forum‚ making a well-rounded student who is capable of processing‚ thinking and using their learning through music activities in math‚ history or English classes‚” she says.

The commitment to arts education can be seen in the bricks and mortar‚ too.

Each of the 10 new schools built since 1994 has either an auditorium‚ a multipurpose room or dedicated rooms for music and art education‚ Taylor says.

“It’s clearly a reflection on the commitment of our school leaders‚” he adds.

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