By Dustin Turner

SAIL is about to put its first school year in the record books and administrators already are planning for growth. The School for Arts-Infused Learning is Columbia County’s first charter school and provides students in grades K-6 with a rigorous academic and arts curriculum. The school must be doing something right: Next year’s enrollment is full at 504 students and there is a waiting list of about 1,400. That enrollment includes the addition of seventh grade.

Other additions for the 2018-19 school year include full-time gifted, Spanish and special education teachers. The school also has launched a $1.5 million capital campaign to construct a second building, which is expected to be complete by December.

Director of Curriculum, Ann Sturkey said when people donate to the capital campaign, they are investing in more than a building. “It’s all about what that building will house. We want people to invest in success. Invest in innovation. Invest in opportunities. Invest in scholar advancement.”

Community interest in the school – and a full enrollment – prompted SAIL administrators to plan summer camps. Classes, which are open to the community, will include arts (dance, drama, art), sports (field hockey, flag football, baton) and Imaginarium (cake decorating, space, mad scientist). The camp is open to children ages 5-13.  Go to for more information.

“Because we can only take so many students, we want to give everyone a little piece of SAIL, even if they can’t come during the school year,” said Dr. Michael Berg, the director of student services. “We want children to be able to have a SAIL experience and to offer a service for working parents that is a skills-based camp, not just daycare.”

In the meantime, SAIL is celebrating. The school received a grant from Kaboom and Carmax for playground equipment in honor of military families. The equipment was unveiled in April during an event in which military families could participate in active play with their children. That event was the inaugural SAIL Family Day of Play and will continue on the second Thursday of April from now on.

“This is being done to promote active play,” explained SAIL Superintendent Kristy Zgol. “Society increasingly has turned to technology to watch their children. We want families to actively play with their children. We have lost that whole sense of play and imagination.”

Another inaugural event that Zgol expects to be annual is the May 19 SAIL-ebration. “Traditionally, schools have field days or carnivals. We are going with our arts-infusion theme and students will be showing off their work. Our fine arts teachers have been working hard to develop that day to be an annual event.”

In the first year, SAIL’s teachers and students have fully embraced the arts-infused curriculum. “The teachers have written curriculum and have created plans that are very well aligned,” Zgol said. “They are designing assessments that allow students to perform, produce, compose and collaborate. Students are the creators of their learning, and teachers are facilitating that so well – more than we could have ever wished for.”

The students have been a source of joy for Sturkey. “I have greatly enjoyed watching the student growth through the school year. We had some students who were somewhat hesitant, not quite sure of their place in SAIL when they started. They have jumped onboard and are enjoying school. Just to walk hallways and see the excitement of not just the teachers but students, too -that has been a pure joy to me.” 

Not only do students seem to be enjoying SAIL, Zgol said, they seem proud of the school and protective of its culture. To capitalize on that, a school-wide character education program will be introduced next year. “They are going to take control of managing the school’s climate. They will be encouraged to step up and remind others, ‘That’s not the way we do it here at SAIL’ or ‘We don’t talk to others that way.’ It will be character education that they will take to their peers and hold their peers accountable to the SAIL principles.

Zgol said character education is one way to prevent violent tragedies at SAIL. “We feel that our students have a lot more impact on their peers if they are the ones who say ‘Hey, that’s not cool’ because it has less impact if it comes from an adult. We have been brainstorming ways of empowering our students to be the ones to stand up and hold their peers accountable.”

All the growth and reasons to celebrate don’t come easily. Perhaps the biggest challenge, Sturkey said, has been trying to get teachers to let go of traditional ways of running a class.

“Teachers don’t have to have that mindset that everything has to be focused on testing,” she said. “We have to remind them to trust what they do in the classroom to trust themselves as teachers. As they incorporate arts infusion, the students are going to get it. It may not be through multiple tests and quizzes and assessment after assessment, but through the engagement of how students are learning in the classroom.”

That is not to say, however, that SAIL does not adhere to strict academic standards. “The biggest misconception with arts infusion,” Zgol said, “is that people think you are teaching a content area and add an art project or throw in a craft or song or dance, and that is not the case all. The rigor here is much different than traditional schools because we expect them to excel in all of the content area, the arts and foreign language. On report cards, they are not just getting marks of ‘Satisfactory.’ They are having to show mastery of all of these areas.”

Berg emphasized that SAIL gives equal weight to academia, the fine arts and foreign language. “Some students do not qualify for Beta Club or other academic milestones because they are not meeting the expectation in Spanish, for example. So the rigor is across the board here.”

As in any school, some students might find it difficult to excel in a particular area. To meet that need, SAIL is seeing the need to provide remediation and help students get on track. Students are expected to succeed in academic content, foreign language and fine arts, but they also are expected to participate and collaborate. “In other schools, students are OK even if they are not participating as long as they don’t interrupt,” Zgol explained. “Here, they have to show mastery of the standards, so if we see students not participating, we investigate to see why.”

The master plan for SAIL includes adding grades 8 through 12. Academic expectations will remain the same for all students, Berg said, regardless of their post-education plans. Whether students plan to go to an Ivy League college or trade school or straight into the workforce, they all learn the same principles. “It doesn’t matter what you go into, education should be rigorous. As they move through middle and high school years, we want to expose them to scenarios that improve confidence, oral skills, communications and persuasion. We expect our students to be competing for jobs in a global economy.”

Sturkey said she gets asked a lot what the school’s arts-infused curriculum looks like. SAIL follows the Georgia Standards of Excellence, “and we mirror that with an arts standard and weave the two together where focus isn’t just on one content area. Our teachers take an academic standard and an arts standard and weave the two together to create a beautiful lesson. The content is enhanced by the arts standard, and vice versa.”

A class that recently studied World War II in social studies took a look at the propaganda posters and political cartoons in visual arts class. At one point, the students created their own propaganda posters.

“They aren’t just drawing a picture,” Sturkey said, “They were incorporating everything they learned. They were able to take a stance on religion or not being a bully or ‘who you are is beautiful.’ They weren’t just learning history; they were able to have some self-realization as well. It was very personal for them.”

The advantages of an arts-infused education are evident when students talk about what they learned, Zgol added. “They pick out the standards they were working on in social studies and in art.”

SAIL is making plans that include growth. In the next few years, SAIL will be a full K-12 school with about 950 students and three buildings on campus. True success in five years, Berg said, would be to see SAIL’s model replicated. “We would love to see additional charter schools moving to the area replicating all or some of our components. We would love to see more school choice. We will have the data to support why this will be a success.”

For more information on SAIL, its capital campaign or the summer camps, go to or call (762) 585-1400.

This article appears in the May 2018 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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