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Whitby, Ont. high school arts program getting noticed outside classroom

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WATCH: A unique arts and media program at a Whitby, Ont., high school is helping young artists hone their skills and reach new heights. – Nov 30, 2021

A unique high school arts program in Whitby, Ont., has increasingly been gaining recognition outside of the classroom as its first batch of students prepare to graduate.

Before Nicholas Vilord entered the Arts and Media Program at All Saints Catholic Secondary School (AMP) in Grade 7, he said he felt as though none of his peers shared his passion for dance.

“After joining this program I feel like I’m a part of a huge group of a bunch of different people that all love what I love,” said Vilord, who has danced for 13 years.

Now in Grade 10, Vilord continues to practise the art form, alongside his fellow creative classmates.

“I learn some of their techniques and some different ways to dance from them, not only the teachers,” he said.

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Rick Zheng, a media student in Grade 11, shared a similar sentiment.

“Just being surrounded by so many great artists, dancers, actors, etc., it just creates an amazing inspiring environment,” he said.

His classmate, Mariah Dion, a grade 11 vocals student with whom he took part in an extra-curricular program for young Canadian filmmakers, agreed.

“It’s so amazing to have such like-minded individuals with me in my class to discuss ideas and concepts,” she said.

First launching in 2018, AMP now includes about 750 students, all specializing in fields ranging from dance to instrumental music to visual and performance arts, said Chris Cuddy, the principal at the school which is part of the Durham Catholic District School Board.

Students generally apply to enter beginning in either Grade 7 or Grade 9, auditioning or submitting a portfolio, depending on their field.

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“We take students from all varying levels,” Cuddy said. “So we have beginning artists that maybe haven’t had that outside experience or training before but we see potential in them.”

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This year AMP will see its first graduating class, with students now enrolled in grades 7 through 12. Some students have already made their mark outside out of the classroom.

“We have students that have been nominated for Junos, we have students that are appearing in TV shows, in movies,” Cuddy told Global News. “We have students that are doing art exhibitions at different galleries. We have students that are premiering their own short films and documentaries.”

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Equity and access is a major focus of the program, according to Johnny Soln, a drama teacher and curriculum chair of the arts for AMP. With this in mind, there is no fee to apply or for the program itself, he explained.

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He said he sees students not only improve in their respective fields but also in general life skills.

“Communication, collaboration, leadership skills, project management, the ability to think creatively,” he said, listing the various areas of growth.

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Nathan Ounger, a Grade 11 student with a passion for drama, said he has gained valuable communications skills that are applicable to his plans to become a lawyer.

“A lot of that is presenting and I will 100 per cent use those skills I have learned here,” he said.

Back alongside the stage, Vilord said he isn’t sure what his future holds, but he knows it will involve dance.

“It’s been my life all my life and it’s definitely going to stick with me for the rest of my life.”

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