Northwest School of the Arts is located in the Oaklawn neighborhood of northwest Charlotte, but its unique programs draw students from every corner of Mecklenburg County, including south Charlotte.
Beth O’Ham, a senior visual arts major, is just one of the students who travels to Northwest every day from areas like Ballantyne, Blakeney and SouthPark.
The magnet school serves approximately 1,000 students in grades six through 12 who take classes in art, music, theater and dance along with English, science and math.
According to a map created by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ Transportation Department, approximately 140 families zoned for Ardrey Kell, East Meck, Providence, Myers Park and South Meck high schools choose to send their children to Northwest.
O’Ham, who would have attended Myers Park, has studied visual arts at Northwest since the ninth grade.
“The first and foremost reason I decided to go to Northwest is that it’s a smaller school,” O’Ham said. “I’ve gotten to work closely with some really great, personable teachers. Also, I’ve always been interested in visual arts, and I wanted to pursue that.”
Since enrolling at Northwest, O’Ham has worked to develop her skills in multiple disciplines, including drawing, mixed media and sculpture.
“The type of kids who go to Northwest and the teachers who work there create a really great vibe,” O’Ham said. “At most schools, kids our age aren’t really sure what they’re doing, but we all have a focus. We don’t have much drama because we all have a skill we’re working on, and we don’t have time for it.”
O’Ham also credits the older students with helping maintain the positive environment by inspiring the younger students with their art.
“We all have really great, talented kids within our major that we can look up to,” O’Ham said. “No one is exclusive. A lot of kids at Northwest have always been different, so they know what it’s like to be picked on.”
O’Ham lives in SouthPark, and, depending on traffic, the trip from her house to the school takes anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes.
“It’s not the length of the commute that’s hard, but I rely on public transportation,” O’Ham said. “There aren’t enough routes from here to there, so it takes me two hours to get to school. I used to take the school bus, so it really affected me when they cut transportation. Now I take public transportation or rely on my parents or friends to give me a ride to school.”
Living so far from school also is challenging from a social perspective.
“One downside of going to a magnet school is that your friends are scattered to all four corners of the earth,” O’Ham said.
Despite not getting home until 5 p.m. most days, O’Ham, who plans to attend Appalachian State University next year, believes her experience at Northwest was worth the hassle.
“Arts education is really valuable even if you don’t grow up to be an artist,” O’Ham said. “It helps you find a healthy way to express yourself, and it helps you learn a lot about yourself. I would be a very different person if I hadn’t gone to Northwest.”
Northwest School of the Arts offers specialized studies in visual arts, theater arts, music and dance as part of a curriculum that meets all state standards.
The school will host open houses for prospective families Feb. 10, Mar. 10 and Apr. 5 at 12:30, 1, 5 and 5:30 p.m.
All students interested in attending Northwest School of the Arts must participate in an audition or a portfolio review during the lottery application period. Auditions and portfolio reviews will be held by appointment only on Feb. 18, Mar. 18, Apr. 30 and May 7. Audition information is available on the school’s website.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools offers visual and performing arts magnet programs at the elementary level at First Ward Elementary and University Park Creative Arts Academy, which feed into Northwest. Current fifth- and eighth-graders in the magnet program must participate in an audition or portfolio review to progress.
Northwest School of the Arts is located at 1415 Beatties Ford Road. To learn more, go online to cms.k12.nc.us/northwestHS/pages/default.aspx/.