Royal Oaks Elementary in Cabarrus County completed their five-day A+ institute this summer, and the impact is already being felt throughout their school community. Principal Melody Marsh, along with her staff and students, shared their excitement and thoughts on how Royal Oaks is already transforming their learning environment and how A+ has been a "game changer" for their school.
A+ Schools: What led to the decision to become an A+ school and/or the belief that A+ would be a good fit for Royal Oaks Elementary?
ROES Principal Melody Marsh: The Cabarrus County School Board of Education approved Royal Oaks Elementary as the first fine arts school in the district. Knowing we wanted to have the very best arts integration professional development and support for our staff, we began looking into the benefits of joining the A+ Network. Upon learning all A+ has to offer and the way their network is like a family of schools moving toward the same goals, we knew we wanted to be a part of their organization. We have not regretted that decision for a single moment!
A+ Schools: How did the five-day summer institute impact your staff?
Melody Marsh: The five-day summer institute was a wonderful week of team building, collaboration and learning all about arts integration. Royal Oaks was at a transitional period at the time, moving back into a brand-new state of the art school building, and a lot of the staff were newly hired. Some of the staff were meeting for the very first time at the A+ training in Raleigh! The A+ Fellows made a point to provide time for us to get to know ourselves as a staff and begin building culture and climate. In addition, the arts professional development we received was hands-down the best training we have experienced. Every day was a fun day of engaging activities and meaningful conversations that built a solid foundation for beginning this journey as a school of the arts.
A+ Schools: What has changed so far at Royal Oaks as a result of becoming an A+ school?
Melody Marsh: A better question would be what hasn’t changed! Becoming an A+ school has completely transformed how we operate as a school, how we think, and how we work together as a team. Everyone is laser focused on the goal of arts integration and is working collaboratively to make our school an engaging, creative, energizing place for our students and staff. We incorporate A+ strategies into our staff gatherings and this has helped us find more joy and fun in the work environment. When you take a peek into our classrooms, students are moving, talking, singing, dancing and collaborating in ways they weren’t before. Students are smiling and happy to be at school. Parents continue to comment about our positive learning environment and how their children are thriving with the arts integrated curriculum. Staff are finding they have more fun planning and teaching lessons when they are free to be creative and try new things.
A+ Schools: What would you say to a school who is considering entering the A+ Network?
Melody Marsh: Becoming an A+ school may be the very best decision you and your staff could ever make. The training and support provided by the A+ Network is unparalleled. The energy and focus it brings to your school is transformational. Our students are performing better on academic standards because they are able to connect with the content in so many different ways than in a traditional school setting.
A+ Schools: What are your staff, students, parents, community saying about the A+ changes at Royal Oaks?
Melody Marsh: This initiative has truly helped set us apart as school that provides unique instruction for families looking for a more engaging and creative learning approach for their students. Everyone is so excited about the changes they have seen in our school! Here's what our staff and students are saying…
Lauren Robbins, ROES 3rd Grade Teacher: Joining A+ Schools has been a game changer for Royal Oaks Elementary. I have already received several messages from parents about how their children have never loved school as much as they do this year! I have seen an increase in engagement and a decrease in negative behaviors. Students are learning in a more engaging way, and they are also learning to collaborate with each other. Not only has being an A+ School had a positive impact on students and parents, but it has also helped to improve the culture and morale with the staff. It feels amazing to not be stuck inside the teacher "box" and to be able to teach in new and exciting ways!
AmyLyn Foster, ROES Arts Coordinator: One of our frequent discipline referral students, who has been “written up” many times over the past years for behavioral issues, has had no referrals so far this year. She is smiling each day, engaged in the activities and is involved in several of our after-school clubs. A big part of our behavior issues stem from frustration with the academics within the school. Our goal is to engage our students with the arts and provide them with confidence and opportunities for the future.
Isabella, 1st Grade Student: “Our teachers teach us – but they also entertain us – which is FUN! We are very busy learning.”
Anderson, Kindergarten Student: “It’s the best school EVER and EVERYTHING is my favorite!”