By Emma Castleberry
This fall, the Asheville City Schools Foundation (ACSF) will celebrate 30 years in the Asheville community. Founded in 1988 by parents and community leaders, the ACSF works to increase equity and opportunity in Asheville’s schools through advocacy, grants and parent and community engagement. Since 2000, ACSF has provided more than $800,000 directly to teacher-led projects and more than $1 million to students through scholarships. “The Foundation is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the success of all children in the Asheville City Schools,” says Copland Rudolph, development director for the ACSF. “My kids are fifth-generation Asheville High students. As an Asheville native, I know a community is only as strong as its public schools.”
Early on, the foundation’s primary work was providing small grants to teachers. While the ACSF still provides these grants, its operations have expanded to include a network of programs that aim to decrease inequity and increase opportunity for all students. One such program is In Real Life (IRL), an after-school programming initiative that serves 200 middle school students in Asheville. “IRL meets a compelling community need by delivering high-quality after-school programming and providing transportation home for children,” says Rudolph. “These factors enable parents to work longer hours in order to access stable income.” ACSF partners with more than 50 organizations and professionals in the community to offer a variety of opportunities for students to engage outside of formal school hours. More than half of the families involved in IRL received the programming for free.
ACSF also operates Teaching Artists Presenting in Asheville Schools, or TAPAS. TAPAS is a collaborative arts-integration program that brings artists into local schools for teaching residences in the visual and craft arts, performance art and creative writing. “ACSF staff bridge the Asheville arts community with the Asheville City Schools, matching artists’ talents with teachers’ requests for curriculum extensions,” says Rudolph. “Now in its ninth year, TAPAS primarily recruits artists from the Asheville community, ensuring continued sustainability.”
Christopher Holt has been working with TAPAS since the program began. Holt has worked with K–12 students on topics like portraiture, figure drawing, Jacob Lawrence and the Great Migration, Isaac Dickson, Egyptian history and Matisse. “Each of my projects include lessons on geography, history, drawing, composition and painting,” he says. “I really see this program as an extension of work as an artist. The more our children can pack up their gifts, creativity and confidence in problem solving and working together, the more they are able to have a positive impact as adults.” TAPAS has a two-fold benefit, creating economic and career-enhancing opportunities for local artists and also eliminating poverty as a barrier to participation in the arts.
The ACSF is constantly looking for ways to improve or change its programs and make them responsive to the current needs of students and families. In alignment with this goal, the ACSF has initiated The Listening Project. A committee of 20 community members and district staff has begun a year-long investigation into student perceptions about the culture at Asheville High School and The School of Inquiry and Life Sciences at Asheville (SILSA).
Ceecret Allen, a graduating senior at SILSA, participated in an interview for the project. “As soon as I heard of the Project, I felt that it was my honor to help bring awareness to the diversity, or lack thereof, in the school system,” Allen says. “The Listening Project impacted my high school experience by uncovering the true stigmas within our school. In reality, race should not matter, but when you see that you are the recessive race in your school, you feel uncomfortable because you don’t think that a teacher who is different from you will understand. I think the work that ACSF does is important because it brings awareness to social issues on a bigger scale.”
The ACSF not only works to identify problems in the public school system but also to implement actionable solutions to those problems. “We believe that strong public schools are an essential part of breaking the cycle of poverty, dismantling structural racism and sustaining our democracy,” says Rudolph. “We uphold the value of each student and believe that we have a specific responsibility to increase racial equity in our schools.”
To learn more about Asheville City Schools Foundation, visit acsf.org.