How Arts Education Makes Kids Smart


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Lined up along my office wall, my daughter’s elementary school self-portraits show how she has grown — not just physically, but also as an artist, as someone who can create imaginative representations of identity. The more primitive kindergarten self, with wild yarn hair, jagged teeth and disproportionate limbs, shares space with the more realistically featured third-grader with a neat blond bob and thoughtful eyes. Both pieces speak to how vision, skill and execution — the artistic process — combine to create a work of art that is unlike any other.

But it’s more than that. In moving from inspiration to creative product, she isn’t just filling space with colors and shapes. She and her fellow students are developing skills — known as “habits of the mind” — that are key to success across the curriculum in school, and in life. And as the demand grows for graduates who are not just savvy test-takers but also innovative, adaptable thinkers, the necessity of quality arts education for all children becomes more and more apparent.

How the arts make kids smart

It’s no secret that involvement in the arts — dance, music, theater and visual arts — is enriching. “The arts stir a child’s curiosity and creativity while teaching discipline, hard work, determination and perseverance,” says Kathy Mitchell of Apex, whose daughters, Madison, 10, and Sydney, 8, take dance and piano lessons. “As a result of their performing, I notice a sense of confidence and self-esteem in my kids.”

But research into the outcomes of arts education shows that the arts do more than that: They make better students. Christie Lynch Ebert, arts education consultant at the N. C. Department of Public Instruction, explains: “Numerous studies point toward a consistent and positive correlation between a substantive education in the arts and student achievement in other subjects and on standardized tests,” she says.

The following are among the capabilities strengthened by arts education, identified by the Arts Education Partnership in its 2002 report, Critical Links:

Reading and language development, from helping children make the connection between sounds and written language to reading comprehension and writing proficiency.

Spatial reasoning and spatial-temporal reasoning skills, considered fundamental to understanding and using mathematical concepts.

Creative thinking and conditional reasoning or theorizing about outcomes and consequences.

In addition, through their focus on process as well as product, the arts stress innovation, persistence and self-reflection. Gussie Marshallsea, art teacher at Olive Chapel Elementary School in Apex, puts it this way: “Students are encouraged to find their artistic ability by feeling confident — there is no wrong way — and to take creative risks without worrying about mistakes.”

Such emphasis on experimentation is a far cry from the outcome-driven curricula in many academic subjects. But researchers have found that the “habits of the mind” developed in arts classes often inform and enhance students’ experiences in these other areas. In fact, students with the discipline and tenacity to stick with their artistic pursuits are also more likely to be recognized for academic achievement and regular attendance and to participate in leadership roles.

At-risk students find success in arts

Arts education has an even greater impact on students who are economically disadvantaged or need remediation. Participation in the arts stimulates motivation to learn, effective social behavior and community engagement — all crucial for the success of at-risk students.

Lisa Van Deman, executive director of North Carolina Arts in Action, has seen how the dance curriculum her educators take into schools connects with struggling students. “We see all the time how children who may not perform well in a traditional classroom setting … absolutely blossom because of the noncompetitive nature of the arts,” she says. “The arts provide a truly level playing field for children—everyone has something to contribute to the betterment of the whole.”

It is in this context of community that even the most disengaged students can find purpose. “Providing an environment that encourages success for everyone resonates with children,” Van Deman notes, “and they almost always rise to the occasion and push themselves to succeed.” In this way, the arts provide a unique pathway to help all students find success, both in school and beyond.

Arts education in the Triangle

Parents who want these opportunities for their children have policy-makers on their side. The N.C. Standard Course of Study, updated in 2005, affirms arts education as beneficial to “both student and society,” and it requires that arts education be a part of every child’s basic education. Coupled with the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), which identifies the arts as a core subject, these guidelines amount to a promise that all North Carolina schoolchildren will enjoy the benefits of a quality arts education.

However, school systems may find it difficult to keep that promise. Critics contend that an intensified focus on academic subjects tested under NCLB has in some schools resulted in those subjects being emphasized over others, such as the arts, that aren’t tested directly. Given the ways in which arts education can contribute to students’ academic success, the shift is shortsighted at best.

Marshallsea, as a classroom art teacher, acknowledges the challenge. “We want our kids to succeed and do well,” she says. “[So] when the focus is [more on] standardized tests results, arts teachers work even harder to ensure that students are engaged in a comprehensive curriculum. Many of our students learn best through arts activities where learning comes alive and connections across the curriculum are made.”

The plummeting economy has added to the tension between academics and the arts. Financially strapped school systems, facing staff layoffs this year, struggle to find ways to meet these educational mandates with fewer teachers. The arts are at risk of being marginalized, or, worse, eliminated. For schools that are committed to maintaining quality arts education programs, dealing with these challenges becomes its own lesson in adaptability.

Theresa Grywalski, a former theater teacher who is now the arts coordinator for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS), has faced many budget challenges in her career. “Unless we have the ability to weave straw into gold, we must look at the financial reality: There is less to go around, and so programs will feel the impact,” she says. “[But] I find it impossible to ask teachers who use supplies to do more with less art materials.”

As a result, Grywalski reports, teachers, parents and even suppliers have gotten “very creative” in meeting funding needs: “I actually had our clay distributor call and suggest we save money on shipping by delivering the clay to one location instead of each individual school,” she explains. “It was a bit more work for me and our maintenance group, but the savings can then be put back into art supplies.”

Mary Casey, director of K-12 Arts Education for the Durham Public Schools (DPS), acknowledges that they, too, have had to make difficult choices this year. “The hard part in arts,” she explains, “is that often one teacher can be the whole program at a school, so cuts are very noticeable.”

To minimize this effect on arts education, DPS Superintendent Carl Harris instructed his staff to avoid layoffs that would result in an entire program being cut from a school. The mandate has presented some logistical challenges — some arts teachers now work at more than one school, for example — and fewer classes may be offered in any particular program, but the system has managed to protect most of its arts offerings. “DPS is fortunate to have a superintendent who realizes the value of the arts,” Casey says.

How parents can help

Even as administrators and teachers do their best to provide solid arts education in the face of these challenges, they emphasize that parental involvement is crucial if the potential of arts education is to come to fruition for all children.

The simplest way to support the arts is by encouraging your child’s interest. “Parents play a key role in fostering a love of the arts in their children,” Casey says. She recommends starting early, giving young children a place to work and some simple materials. “Show interest in their work,” she says. “Talk to them about their process and their inspiration.”

As they get older, make their participation in arts programs possible by carpooling to rehearsals, donating supplies or lending a hand with labor. Most importantly, she says, support them by attending their shows.

Patronize other artists as well. “I’m a big believer in the power of the audience. I think [all] parents … should attend school performances and art shows,” Grywalski adds. “They should bring their children and relatives to show support for the efforts and talents at the school.”

Also, let school leaders know that the community values arts education. “Advocacy begins at the local level,” Ebert says. Parents can “attend local school board and county commissioner meetings, provide information about the importance of the arts . . . and insist that arts education is available for their students.”

Clearly, the positive outcomes for children make those efforts worthwhile. “Participation in the arts contributes directly to the healthy development of ‘the whole child,’ and, thusly, to a civil society,” Van Deman concludes. “As National Dance Institute founder Jacques d’Ambroise is fond of saying, ‘You fill a child with good things, and good things will come from him.’”

Karen Taylor is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Apex with her husband and two daughters.

 

For More Information

Check the following Web sites for additional information about arts education:

The Arts Education Partnershi is a coalition of more than 100 national education, arts, business and philanthropic organizations and the publisher of Critical Links.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Web site includes the Spring 2008 Making the Grade, which focuses on arts education and how parents can encourage their children to participate in the arts.

N.C. Arts in Action is a nonprofit organization “dedicated to transforming the lives of children through participation in the arts.”

National Arts Education Public Awareness Campaign advocates for greater arts education funding through awareness of its many benefits to children.

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Cost: $11

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Cost: $70/month

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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
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More information

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Cost: See website for fees

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Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

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Spanish Alive is providing Family Spanish classes starting in January! Join us to learn Spanish as an entire family in an immersive, fun environment. Our teachers are trained Spanish educators and...

Cost: $75-$216

Where:
Spanish Alive
156 E. Chatham St
Cary, NC
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Website »

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Short class advertising for local class   I am a mom and retired CPA who is passionate about teaching teens about the high cost of their choices. I teach a fun, interactive "Game of Life meets...

Cost: $225

Where:
Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
Website »

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I am a mom and retired CPA who is passionate about teaching teens about the high cost of their choices. I teach a fun, interactive "Game of Life meets Dave Ramsey" class that has teens experience...

Cost: $225

Where:
Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
Website »

More information

Short class advertising for local class   I am a mom and retired CPA who is passionate about teaching teens about the high cost of their choices. I teach a fun, interactive "Game of Life meets...

Cost: $225

Where:
Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
Website »

More information

Azevedo Family Psychology and Kym Azevedo will host an Art for Life group each Thursday from 5:30-6:30PM beginning January 16 and running through March 26. This group is completely free, kid...

Cost: FREE

Where:
1903 N. Harrison Ave
Suite 201
Cary, NC  27513
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Sponsor: Azevedo Family Psychology
Telephone: 919-624-9568
Contact Name: Kym Azevedo
Website »

More information

Explore astronomy, biology, architectural and engineering principles, technology and so much more through our hands-on, play-based activities. Spend an evening with your preschooler, experiencing...

Cost: free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: Saint Rapahel Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Katie Mistele
Website »

More information

The goal of the How To Talk So Kids Will Listen Group workshop is to help you communicate more effectively with children.   In each session of the workshop you'll be introduced to an...

Cost: $12.95 materials fee

Where:
Wildflower School at Belle Vie Farm
3100 Damascus Church Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
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Sponsor: Wildflower School at Belle Vie Farm
Telephone: 919-260-6859
Contact Name: Shelley Welch
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Telephone: 919-962-7529

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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on camp week

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Join us for Family Trivia Night!  Test your knowledge of pop culture, books, music and more. Pizza and drinks provided.  Call or stop by to register: 919-245-2532. Best for kids ages 8 and up...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

More information

Art Walk featuring local galleries and artist studios in historic downtown Hillsborough on the Last Friday of every month (no Art Walk in December).

Cost: FREE

Where:
Downtown Hillsborough (multiple locations)
102 N. Churton St.
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Hillsborough Arts Council
Telephone: 919-643-2500
Contact Name: Torey Mishoe
Website »

More information

Kids! Are you sick of the Winter? Enjoy a Summer's night at Peach Road Center. Enjoy a Summer-like evening with us. Get into the luau spirit and play summer games!  

Cost: Free

Where:
Peach Road Community Center
911 Ileagnes Rd
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: City or Raleigh Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-807-8545
Contact Name: Christy Famolare

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Join our bird enthusiast, Vernon, for an easy walk while looking and listening for our feathered friends. Discover different types of birds and their habitats.​ No preregistration required. Meet...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

How did people predict the weather before The Weather Channel, and can animals really help? Come to the Finley Center to put our colonial weather proverbs to the test and make a pop-up woodchuck...

Cost: For all ages; FREE. Registration is not required

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on camp week

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Join us to meet the educators, see the farm and learn more about our Preschool for 3-5 year olds and Camps for 4-10 year olds. We'll have a campfire for some warmth but please come dressed for the...

Cost: 0

Where:
Longleaf Forest School
4826 Mt. Moriah Road
Durhan, NC  27707
View map »


Sponsor: Longleaf Forest School
Contact Name: Tara Lawson
Website »

More information

Chinese New Year Festival, also Lunar New Year Festival. Largest public event in the Triangle. MAIN STAGE has vocal and orchestral music, folk dance, Lion and Dragon dances, martial arts, and comic...

Cost: $10 entry at door, military and senior discounts, kids<6 free

Where:
Dorton Arena, NC State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Enter Gate 1,2,4,5,11
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Sponsor: NC Triangle Area Chinese American Society
Contact Name: Michael, Shin
Website »

More information

Chinese New Year Festival or Lunar New Year Festival, largest public event in the Triangle. MAIN STAGE with musical and dance performances, Lion Dance Dragon Dance, martial arts, comic skits emceed...

Cost: $10 entry at door, military and senior discounts, kids<6 free

Where:
Dorton Arena, NC State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Enter Gate 1,2,4,5,11
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Sponsor: NC Triangle Area Chinese American Society
Contact Name: Michael, Shin
Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Spanish Alive is providing Family Spanish classes starting in January! Join us to learn Spanish as an entire family in an immersive, fun environment. Our teachers are trained Spanish educators and...

Cost: $75-$216

Where:
Spanish Alive
156 E. Chatham St
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Did you know that Disney, Netflix, Google and NASA, just to name a few, are all using Python? Python can be used for creating web applications, automation, programming robots and artificial...

Cost: Free: registration required

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

FEB. 1, 2020 | 1 – 4 P.M. | BLUE JAY POINT COUNTY PARK Spend a winter afternoon getting to know Blue Jay Point County Park at our Winter Open House. Whether you’re a regular visitor or have...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Road
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Telephone: 919-870-4330
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

Come on out to support the NC State Gymnastics team as they take on North Carolina in a RED out on February 1st! The first 300 fans in attendance will receive an exclusive red NC State Gymnastics...

Cost: $3-$7

Where:
Reynolds Collisuem
2411 Dunn Ave.
Raleigh , NC  27607
View map »

More information

Come on out to support the NC State Gymnastics team as they take on North Carolina in a RED out on February 1st! The first 300 fans in attendance will receive an exclusive red NC State Gymnastics...

Cost: $3-$7

Where:
Reynolds Collisuem
2411 Dunn Ave.
Raleigh , NC  27607
View map »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

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Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2019-20 Education Guide offers 718 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.