GOOSE CREEK — Fourth-grader Michael Weydert quietly worked to mold gray clay into pottery during ceramics class. One hallway away, 60 chorus students wore fish, shark and other sea-creature costumes while singing about the ocean, then performed an upbeat dance number from the musical "Hairspray."
Tuesday was a typical day at Berkeley's Howe Hall Arts Infused Magnet School, where music, dance, drama and the visual arts so are integrated into the daily curriculum that Michael said he only learned his multiplication tables when his teacher taught the class a catchy song with the math figures.
Howe Hall recently was named one of only five schools in the nation with an "exemplary arts-education program."
The school applied last year for the Creative Ticket National Schools of Distinction Award given by the Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education. School leaders found out in the spring they would serve as South Carolina's nominee and were thrilled to learn they had achieved the national prize.
"Out of all of the schools in the country, it says that our school is a special school," Michael said.
Former Principal Lori Dibble urged Howe Hall to apply for the award last year. Dibble was an assistant principal at Dorchester's Rollings Middle School of the Arts when Rollings won the national Creative Ticket prize several years ago.
When she moved to Howe Hall, Dibble said she wanted teachers and students to go through the same rewarding process. The school submitted a six-page application and a 14-minute video showcasing the level of arts-related instruction happening in classrooms.
Although she's now principal of the Daniel Island School, Dibble said she was ecstatic when she found out her former school was named as an award winner.
"The level of arts infusion at Howe Hall is above anything I had ever seen before," she said.
The elementary magnet school admits students across Berkeley County through an application and lottery process, with no auditions required. The school's creative approach to learning became so popular that parents two years ago demanded a middle school option where students from Howe Hall could continue their arts education. Despite the costs, district administrators and school board members approved a new arts curriculum at Marrington Middle School.
Frank Miley, the district's performing arts coordinator, said officials hoped Howe Hall's program could become a district model, but they had no idea the level of success the school would reach. In addition to music, dance and drama performances, Miley said the district is proud of the school's high test scores and academic program.
"It proves that when you set high expectations for children, they are going to pull through for you," Miley said.
Along with the national award, Howe Hall students were invited to go to Washington, D.C., for a Kennedy Center event. The district is unsure whether students will make the trip, but the school did perform last week in Columbia at a packed South Carolina Alliance for Arts Education conference.