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Boarding school moves into part of Folkmoot Center

Waynesville arts and cultural organization Folkmoot has reached an agreement with the Academy at SOAR, a longtime boarding school in the Balsam community of Jackson County, to move its school operations on the Folkmoot Friendship Center campus.

SOAR, which serves students grades 7-12 diagnosed with a learning disability and/or ADHD, will occupy the original Hazelwood School building for 10 months each year, leaving two summer months for use by Folkmoot and its long-running International Festival. The structure, which dates to 1923, comprises roughly one-third of the Folkmoot Center space.

As part of the agreement between the two organizations, substantial upgrades will be made to the building, including new heating and air conditioning systems.

Folkmoot leaders say the partnership is integral to its long-term development strategy as a year-round arts and cultural center, one aspect of which is sustainable use of the entire 40,000-square-foot space. One barrier to broader use requires various rehabilitation projects within the aging structure, including heat and air.

“Folkmoot has been in the process of building year-round programming and creating opportunities for community rentals that help to sustain the costs of owning the Friendship Center,” said Folkmoot Executive Director Angie Schwab. “It’s a 40,000 square-foot structure and there is plenty of room for SOAR, Folkmoot and for new arts and cultural program expansion.”

“The SOAR School partnership will mean building B gets the care and maintenance it deserves,” said David Francis, Folkmoot Board President. “From a neighborhood perspective, Hazelwood will appreciate that the building looks nice on the outside and that SOAR students and faculty are good neighbors. From a historic preservation perspective, upgrading the building with heat and air will help to preserve the vintage building while programmatically, the HVAC upgrades will make the space more comfortable as we host international performers.”

Folkmoot, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, has become a Western North Carolina institution. Each summer since 1984 musicians and dancers from across the globe have visited Waynesville as part of the Folkmoot International Dance and Music Festival. More than 8,000 international performers from 200 countries have participated through the decades. Folkmoot focuses on programs and events that celebrate diversity and differences, encourage cultural conversation and inclusion, and preserve and honor worldwide cultural heritages, especially using dance and music as a tool to achieve world peace.

Year-round programs at Folkmoot include the Southern Storytellers Series, Cultural Crash Courses, Nashville Songwriters in the Round, live music performances and International Friendship Dinners. Artist’s studio spaces are also available, and the Center recently became home to the Western North Carolina Quilt Trail, hosted by the Haywood County Arts Council.

The Academy at SOAR, founded in 1977, is a North Carolina certified non-public co-educational boarding school and a branch of SOAR Inc. (Success Oriented Achievement Realized). SOAR is also accredited regionally through AdvancEd (SACS) as a fully accredited secondary school. The tuition-based school currently serves a maximum of 32 male and female students, most of whom have had difficulty succeeding in traditional educational environments.

“I just can’t believe how awesome everyone has been in Waynesville,” said Joe Geier, Head of School at SOAR. “They’ve bent over backwards to help us meet a tight timeline. We’re very thankful, our students are starting the year on a high note, and we look forward to making another home for SOAR Academy here at Folkmoot.”

The school functions as a hybrid residential boarding school on a 4-week cycle: half of the school’s 32-student enrollment are in a traditional classroom setting at any given time, while the other half are on traveling expeditions.

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