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ABC Institute gets a 'snapshot' of arts infusion magic at HHA

Published on Friday, March 17, 2022

educators checking out first grade infusion lesson second graders making "glasses" on faces using hands
BCSD photos / Monica Kreber


It can be nerve-wracking to be the center of attention in a room full of close to 200 people, but Howe Hall Arts Infused Magnet School’s students did not waver when it came time to show why their school is a leader in arts infusion.

March 16 was a busy day for Howe Hall AIMS; because of its demonstrated leadership in arts infusion, the school was selected by the Arts in Basic Curriculum – or ABC – Institute to host the institute’s spring site visit. It was a chance for Howe Hall AIMS students to show visiting educators from across the state what arts infusion magic looks like at their school. 

Watching it unfold triggered an emotional response from Principal Christopher Swetckie.

“There were times I teared up today…they’re nailing it,” Swetckie said, adding, “The guests saw an honest, authentic snapshot of what happens here every single day.”

The ABC Institute is cooperatively directed by the South Carolina Arts Commission, the South Carolina Department of Education and the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Winthrop University. Its mission is to provide leadership to achieve quality and comprehensive arts education for all students in South Carolina. The institute is celebrating 35 years in operation this year.

Kim Wilson serves as the institute’s director. This visit to Howe Hall AIMS is the institute’s first in-person school meeting since prior to the shutdown from the COVID-19 pandemic.

While many schools were affected by the pandemic, Wilson praised Principal Christopher Swetckie, his staff and the school community for having “never lost a beat” during the hardships.

“It is so ingrained in who they are, how they do business, and how they work with students,” Wilson said. “We knew they were so capable of hosting all these schools, and kind of giving everybody that reboot.

“Howe Hall AIMS has always served as leader in our network for many years,” Wilson added. “I think our schools and our network really needed that leadership in our first time back.”

Howe Hall AIMS opened in 2002 as the first magnet school in Berkeley County. The school quickly established its arts philosophy and became a model for arts infusion. Countless educators have visited the school meeting with arts teachers and administrators in their efforts to begin arts schools or replicate the arts infusion philosophy at Howe Hall.

Fine arts and classroom teachers deliver arts-infused lessons utilizing a team teaching approach. These lessons are based on state standards but are taught through the eyes of an artist. Students apply arts skills as they work to master the academic standards. For example, earlier this school year, fourth-graders did a "Survivor"-themed P.E. infusion lesson that incorporated their math skills.

Howe Hall AIMS serves 420 kindergarten through fifth grade students who are selected, not by audition, but by lottery from all over Berkeley County. In addition to their arts infusion lessons, students in grades third through fifth are treated to a myriad of exploratory classes from which they select one which they attend once a week. These classes include: orchestral strings, steel drums, chorus, puppetry, tap dance, yoga, improvisational theatre, broadcast journalism, clay, photography and more.

The school is still accepting applications for the 2023-2024 school year until March 31. Applications are available on the school website.

Thursday’s visit from the ABC Institute included arts infusion demonstration lessons led by Howe Hall AIMS teachers and students. These demonstrations reflect the dance, theatre, music, physical education and visual art classes that students participate in each week at Howe Hall AIMS. little girl twirling

Howe Hall AIMS first graders kicked off the demonstrations with a visual arts infusion lesson led by teachers Brooke Irimescu and Erin Lawhon. The students did an activity that incorporated geometric shapes into art. Students first talked about some shapes they saw in a program using their Chromebooks, and also checked out pieces of artwork that included such shapes. They then used their tabletops as their “canvases” to construct their own pieces of art using different little plastic shapes and other art material.

Second graders kept the demonstrations going with a dance infusion lesson with dance teacher Kim Steele and fifth graders practiced some famous Shakespeare lines during a theatre lesson led by theatre teacher Angela Rogers.

Swetckie praised his students for being able to block out the audience and focus their attention on their teachers to show how they really get hooked on their lessons.

“It’s intimidating to be 6 years old and have 200 people staring at you while you’re learning math – and they didn’t flinch,” Swetckie said.

Swetckie said his school was asked to host the spring site visit back in fall; Swetckie called it a very “humbling” request.

Thursday’s event also included a discussion on how schools can get ABC-certified; breakout sessions where visiting educators met with job-alike colleagues at Howe Hall AIMS to learn more about the school; and a tour of the building. Berkeley County School District’s Child Nutrition Services team provided food for the event.

Swetckie said the event also created a chance for discussions about concerns that all state schools could relate to, like safety and security, teacher recruitment and retention, and more.

“We now have a network of colleagues throughout the state from various types of schools, various levels of experiences, and I think everybody walked out of there with a professional peer they can call if they need help – and that’s huge,” he said.

Swetckie credited the day’s success to those who contributed at the school and district level.

“It means more to me than I can put into words,” he said. “This came off better than I could’ve hoped or dreamed.”

Monica Kreber