The school seal at Northside Elementary School of the Arts in Rock Hill features a compass with one of the school's four arts programs in each corner -- music, dance, art and theater.
That compass steered the school in the right direction, according to the Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network, which recently named Northside one of its Creative Ticket National Schools of Distinction.
The Creative Ticket award, which is awarded to only five schools nationwide, recognizes those that have done "an outstanding job of making the arts an essential part of their students' education."
In addition to being nationally recognized, Northside gets to send 25 students to perform in March at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
"It's an incredible honor," Northside art teacher Kathe Rice Stanley said. "To have this experience as a fourth- or a fifth-grader, it's just the kind of thing you dream about doing."
Students at Northside take art, music, dance and theater, each for 45 minutes per week. Most Rock Hill elementary schools don't offer classes in all four forms of the arts, and Northside is the only elementary school with a full-time drama teacher.
Northside is not a school of choice or a magnet school.
The opportunities for art instruction don't go unnoticed. Sherry Hutchison, president of the school's PTO, said she has seen the impact on her son, Bo, now a freshman at Rock Hill High.
"You can tell in his writing that he has had a good background in creative writing," Hutchison said. "I definitely congratulate Northside on that."
Hutchison's other son, Teddy, has attended Northside since kindergarten and enjoys mixing dance and drama classes with his usual favorite: science.
Students at Northside are well aware that their school is special.
"You'd have no way to speak your mind without art classes," said fourth-grader Helen Grigg, the self-proclaimed school drama queen.
"Maybe the arts kind of feed your mind for imagination," added fifth-grader Riley Moody.
Fifth-grader Kaylin Horn chimed in: "Without the arts, all we'd really do is read, write and do math."
Advocates of arts education say it's an important component of a complete education.
Christine Fisher, director of the Arts in Basic Curriculum project housed at Winthrop University, said it's important for children to learn art for art's sake, but also it helps visual and hands-on learners digest the material and commit it to memory.
"They're giving these students all of these wonderful creative outlets and wonderful ways to keep the students engaged and motivated," Fisher said.
Northside's focus on the arts began in 2000. After a swell of parental support, the phrase "of the arts" was officially added to the school's name in 2006.
"We want to expose our children to the many different ways to express themselves through art," Principal Linda Crute said.
The school has a full-time teacher in all four art forms. But teachers at Northside don't just teach one subject. Instead, the curriculum is integrated so that projects in core classes mesh with activities happening in arts classes.
For example, when students learned about the Boston Tea Party from a history perspective, they also learned how people during that time might have talked, eaten and behaved from a theater perspective. Students often act out plays about history in drama class.
"That kind of helped me learn how they did it because I could imagine I was there," fifth-grader Brandon Brewer said.
To support its many programs, Northside has received more than $100,000 in grants since 2001.
Grants support professional development, pay for supplies and field trips to professional performances and allow the school to have artists-in-residence who work with the students every year.
"It's a great team here at Northside," Crute said. "That makes it all happen."
Adding to the excitement at Northside from the school winning the Creative Ticket Award, the school's principal also was selected outstanding elementary principal for the 2007-2008 school year by the South Carolina Art Education Association.
Linda Crute has been the principal at Northside since 2001.
Crute was close to speechless about her personal achievement.
"I'm very honored but I'm very humbled because it's all about the kids and what we can give them," she said. "If this can help the kids in some way, that's great."
Crute has a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education and a Master of Arts in education from East Carolina University. She also has an educational specialist degree from Winthrop University.
Crute has worked in the Rock Hill school district for more than 25 years.