BUFFALO, Minn. -- Destiny Saxowsky points to a table where ancient looking skulls are carefully laid out. "It's five different sculptures," she explains. Each one depicts an era of human evolution.

The project is an evolution of learning at Buffalo High School, part of the Northwest Suburban Integration School District. The consortium of eight school districts has developed magnet school throughout the Twin Cities' northwest suburbs to give students more options.

"We were asked to put the arts high school out here in Buffalo, and we jumped at the chance, because it was such a wonderful opportunity for both our students, and to attract those over seven districts to come here," said program coordinator Sheri Tamte.

Ninth graders and other students new to the program begin their arts education with a Foundations of Arts class in which they work with professionals in a variety of disciplines. Students are encouraged to explore many areas of artistic expression.

"So even though they might come to the program thinking they're a dancer, they also get to write music, and they also get to create a piece of visual art, and I think, at age 14, that's a reasonable thing to ask them," Tamte explained.

That foundation carries students through their core classes in which teachers incorporate various art forms to drive home a lesson.

Biology teacher Tracy Johnson admits that's not the way she was trained as a teacher, but she finds it's an effective way to help students learn. She uses photosynthesis, a complicated process, as an example. "I teach the kids the steps through a song, or an analogy, or by having them get up and play the different parts," said Johnson. "Then they understand, and it sticks in their brain and it stays with them."

By the time they are seniors, students will have a resume of work, and a capstone project to put their knowledge to work.

Tamte says the program has been graduating students for about eight years now. A parent group has been reaching out to alums to get a better sense of how the program has affected their college, and now professional careers.

"And they come back and tell us, 'Oh my goodness, I know how to work as a team, I know how to think outside (the box), I know how to communicate,'" Tamte said.

Tamte believes the arts are a way to understand the world. Not "fluff" that is subject to budgetary whims. "I have a bumper sticker on my car that says art is basic, and I really do believe it's basic to who we are."