South Charlotte

My daughter gets to dance every day

Life in the Sandwich Generation has gotten a little easier since my daughter, Jazlyn, 17, started her senior year. She left the public school system in her junior year to be home-schooled. The high pressure environment, overcrowded classrooms and lack of individual attention and creativity left her unmotivated and stressed.

With dance as her passion, finding a school where creativity was as important as literacy was the key to getting her back on track. Northwest School of the Arts has been the answer to our prayers. Located on Beatties Ford Road, the visual and performing arts Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools magnet school offers strong academic and study skills while allowing students to explore the arts.

"I hated waking up every morning to go to my old school. It was too structured and I don't learn the way everyone else does. At Northwest I have the opportunity to express myself in ways I couldn't before," said Jazlyn, who hopes to study dance in college.

Principal Barry Bowe considers Northwest, a national model for the anti-bullying campaign, a safe environment where students can express their personalities and creativity.

"Northwest is a unique learning environment where all students are respected, valued and loved," said Bowe. "We are truly a family. The parents and staff embrace every student. My kids know that my door is always open and that I am there for each of them."

Beyond taking academic courses that interest her, Jazlyn gets to take ballet, modern and jazz dance classes every day. Instead of getting off the bus feeling discouraged like she used to, she is enthusiastic and excited to tell me about her day.

Her friend, Megan Braaten, also decided to attend Northwest this year as a visual arts major. The two make the commute from Ballantyne to Northwest on a bus that picks them up from McAlpine Elementary.

I asked the girls what they appreciate about their new high school. At the top of the list was the fact that every student has a strong desire to be there.

"It's a really different learning environment because people have the same motivation. They do well because they want to, not because they have to," said Megan, who plans to attend a four-year art school and possibly pursue a master's degree.

Beyond like-minded peers, the young women feel the teachers at Northwest genuinely care about them and want them to excel. They both say they are doing better on tests and making better grades than they used to.

"At my former school, if you didn't understand something, too bad," said Jazlyn. "Teachers often didn't have time to help me. At Northwest, the teachers really listen to the students. They want you to graduate and will do whatever it takes. I'm not afraid to raise my hand anymore."

Both girls appreciate that teachers don't dole out "busy work," which they define as "doing things for no reason." Instead, they feel that every assignment really matters. Not having copious amounts of homework keeps their attitudes positive as well.

"In my junior year, I would be drowning in homework," said Megan. "What's the point of homework? We do our work in class and what we don't finish we do at home. I don't think it's good to stress kids out."

Since starting the school year she says her art skills have improved.

The school brings together students of different socioeconomic, cultural and racial backgrounds to a place where common passions are mutually shared, supported and valued - something the girls really appreciate.

"It's culture shock in a real world way," said Megan. "If you go to college, you can't expect it to be like Ballantyne."

With the public school system in a state of controversy over standardized testing and mounting pressures on kids to perform, Northwest is a happy medium for those students who need to express their creativity in order to thrive academically.

"Testing does keep the focus on student achievement," said Bowe. "However, there are numerous other skills that we value yet are difficult to assess. We want our students to master basic skills in a variety of subjects. But at the same time, I want my students to be creative, compassionate and confident. The nature of Northwest attracts students and staff who value these difficult to measure qualities."

While I miss having Jazlyn home with me every day, I know she is reaching her full potential.

"Everyone at Northwest has a passion for the arts and that's refreshing," said Jazlyn. "Being able to dance every day makes me excited about learning."

Editor's note: In Lisa Moore's column, "Generations," she writes about the challenges and healing she experiences as a member of the Sandwich Generation: those caring for a parent and a child.