Arts education coursework, honor societies, competitions, concerts, extracurricular clubs, events and field trips provide comprehensive, standards-based learning experiences for NHS students. Northwood has offered classes in four arts disciplines (visual arts, music, theatre arts, and dance)  for more than 40 years.  An early National Endowment for the Arts grant brought dance to NHS in the 1970s. That visionary effort gives Northwood the distinction of being the oldest, comprehensive, public high school arts education program in North Carolina.


Northwood has chapters of the National Honor Society for Dance Arts, the International Thespian Society, the Tri-M International Music Honor Society, and the National Art Honor Society. In April 2018, NHS received the SupportMusic Merit Award from the NAMM Foundation as part of their National Best Communities for Music Education program. In 2013,  NHS received the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts School of Excellence Award. It is one of five schools in North Carolina to receive the honor for Outstanding Achievement in Arts Education and one of only two high schools. They also received the award in 2002.

NorthwoodArts Faculty


NHS Arts Education Foundation supports and promotes the Northwood arts education program. Teacher grants provide resources for the ongoing work of the department, the Carlin Camp Fund supports students' summer arts activities, and annual college scholarships recognize graduates' achievements in the visual and performing arts. Since its inception in 2007, NHSAEF has presented more than $60,000 in scholarships and grants.


In addition to fundraising, NHSAEF members provide promotions assistance, advocacy efforts, and hospitality services at NHS arts events. They volunteer expertise and resources, assist faculty, and serve as consultants, chaperones, or mentors for students.

New members are welcome!!  Contact us to get involved.

NHSAEF  Leadership

  • Leslie Burwell—Faculty Liaison
    Leslie is Northwood's visual arts instructor and the NHSAEF Faculty Liaison. Her children Rebecca and Daniel were active members of NorthwoodArts.
  • Gina Harrison—President
    A co-founder of NHSAEF, Gina is past president Chatham Arts Council and a board member of ArtsNC. Her children, Kevin and Charlotte, were active members of NorthwoodArts.
  • Kym Thacker—Treasurer
    Kym has been in accounting/bookkeeping for over 25 years and also serves as CFO on the Board of Directors of Faithful Hears. She is married with 3 children and 4 grandchildren. Her daughter Holly is a 2015 NHS graduate.
  • Marcie Lorbacher—Board Member
  • Martha Danek—Board Member
    Martha is a sculptor and painter who has been participating on the Chatham Studio Tour for twenty-four years. She is a former guidance counselor who worked at North Chatham School before having her own children. She, her husband, and their children live in Bynum.
  • Lori Carlin—Board Member









Leslie Burwell
(Visual Arts)


Leslie Burwell  received her bachelor’s in psychology with a minor in art and theatre at the University of South Carolina. Leslie taught theater at Zebulon Elementary Arts Magnet. She received her Arts Education Degree at Meredith College  in 1991.


She started teaching Visual Arts at Northwood in 2002. She is a National Board Certified teacher in Art for the young and adult learner. She served for six years as chair of the arts education department. She completed an Action Research Project as member of NC Governor's Teacher Network in 2015.  She was selected as Northwood's Teacher of the Year and Chatham County Teacher of the year for 2015 and 2016. She traveled to South Africa in 2016  as Go Global NC Borchardt Fund Awardee. In 2017, she attended the first Alumni trip with Go Global NC to Morocco.


She is the proud mom of two NHS Alumni !  Rebecca is a program director at Oberlin College in Ohio. Daniel works in NYC in Compliance for Bank of America. She spends free time with her husband Lee, traveling, hiking, and gardening.


Danielle Cohen


Before joining the NHS arts faculty last year, Danielle Cohen served as the dance program director at Chapel Hill High School. Her early dance training included work with Nashville City Ballet, and Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt. She earned her master’s in teaching in 2000, and continues to study dance, most recently at UNC Greensboro and American Dance Festival. She is thrilled to be part of the Charger family!



Jason Freeman


Jason Freeman, son of Wayne and Denise Freeman, began playing the drums at age four and piano at nine. He started on alto saxophone in middle school, and learned to play the horn also. This decision was clearly a good one, as he soon became a competitive horn player throughout middle and high school.


At Winston-Salem State University, he was a three-year section leader and member of the Wind Ensemble, Chamber Orchestra, Marching Band, and Horn Ensemble. He arranged traditional and popular tunes for various ensembles at the university and in the community. He was selected as a member of the prestigious National Collegiate Wind Ensemble in New York City and performed under world-class conductors at Carnegie Hall. In 2011 Freeman was selected as first chair at the Historically Black College & University National Band Director Consortium. Freeman received his Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education. He returned to studies at the UNC School of the Arts pursuing a Master of Music degree in Music Performance, studying under world renowned horn player David Jolley, and graduating in 2014.


He taught high school band in Nashville, TN, conducting Marching Band, Concert Band, Jazz Band, and Pep Band. He is excited to return home for his second year leading the Northwood High School Marching Chargers and the NHS Instrumental Music Program.

Matthew Hanson
(Choral Music & Guitar)


This is Matthew Hanson's 8th year teaching choral music and guitar at Northwood. He graduated in 2012 from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro where he received both his Bachelor of Music Performance and Bachelor of Music Education degrees. Hanson is an active member of the National Association for Music Education as well as the American Choral Director’s Association. He serves as the faculty advisor for the Tri-M Music Honor Society and music director/arranger for Northwood’s award-winning a cappella group, "Pitch Please."




Kristen Oakes


Kristen Oakes found her love of dance during her time as a student here at Northwood High. Her teacher, Leah Wilhelm, inspired her to follow her heart and pursue a career in dance. Kristen graduated from Northwood and attended East Carolina University where she received a bachelor’s degree in Dance Education. This is her 10th year teaching at Northwood and she could not be happier to share her dream job with such an amazing and supportive arts department.  When she is not teaching dance, Kristen enjoys spending time with her husband Stephen and her son Grady.


Abby Sabiston


Abby Sabiston is excited to return to the Arts Department at Northwood for her 5th year of teaching, and her 2nd at NHS. Abby studied Theatre Arts Education at Appalachian State University and began her career at Salem Middle School in Apex, NC.


She began acting, singing, and dancing at the age of 5 and has never looked back. Abby inspires to be like her high school theatre teacher and chorus teacher, Ms. Miller and Ms. Combs. She is excited to show her students at Northwood how the arts is a place that welcomes all types of people!


Kayla Sharp
(Theatre Arts)


This is Kayla Sharp’s 7th year at Northwood. Kayla graduated from Appalachian State University with a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Education. She is a member of the Appalachian Consortium of Theatre Teachers (ACTT) and North Carolina Theatre Arts Educators (NCTAE). Kayla has directed over 10 productions at Northwood and facilitates the improvisation teams and International Thespian Society (ITS).


Kayla enjoys spending time with her husband, Warren, and two dogs, Echo and Ella. Outside of school and family, succulents, podcasts, and museums are highly treasured.


Meagan Shirlen
(Visual Arts & Photography)


Meagan Shirlen received her Master of Arts in Teaching from UNC-Chapel Hill, as well as a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate of Major in Multimedia Arts and Sciences/New Media from UNC-Asheville where she received a Departmental Academic and Leadership Award for Excellence in Creativity. While at UNC-Chapel Hill, she also studied drawing and art history. In Asheville, she was a photographic contributor to WNC Magazine and worked in publishing for Lark Crafts as a junior designer for art and craft books. From freelance photography to portrait studio work, Meagan has been loving and practicing the photographic arts since 2002.

This is her 4th year teaching at Northwood. Outside of school, Meagan loves to hit all manner of hiking trails, visit the mountains, scour the internet for intriguing information, explore new places, avidly consume speculative fiction of both written and film varieties, soak up the local culture, and most especially delight in quality time with her friends and family.